Independent School District Update By State Rep. Tom Taylor

The Dunwoody Crier published an update written by State Rep. Tom Taylor on various State House bills . Below is an excerpt on Independent School Districts.

Georgia State Rep. Tom Taylor R - Dunwoody District 79

Georgia State Rep. Tom Taylor
R – Dunwoody
District 79

By: State Rep. Tom Taylor
Dunwoody Crier

As we begin this week, the legislative session for 2015 is drawing rapidly to a close. This coming Friday, March 27, will mark Legislative Day 38 of 40, leaving the last two legislative days until next week.

Here are some of the high priority bills and resolutions that I will be working on this week:

HR-4 – This is a constitutional amendment I am sponsoring that would allow cities in Georgia to form independent school systems, something that has been prohibited by the State Constitution since 1945.

As a constitutional amendment this requires not just a majority, but a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and then passage on a statewide ballot referendum.

If passed, this would allow cities such as Dunwoody to form their own school systems, allowing much more focused local control of our education dollars and management of personnel and curriculum. This legislation was passed out of the House Education Committee on March 9.

The next step is to round up the requisite 120 House votes required for passage. As we enter the last hectic days of the session, with representatives leaving the floor for committee meetings and conference committees, I am going to hold this bill off the floor until next session and spend the next eight months talking with individual House and Senate members and hopefully tee this up in January 2016.

The delay does not hurt us; the issue cannot go on the ballot before November 2016. I do want to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of GLASS (Georgians for Local Area School Systems), co-chaired by Erika Harris and Allegra Johnson of Dunwoody.

You can learn more about Tom Taylor’s bills by continuing to read “Taylor will hold independent school district bill until 2016” at the ‘Crier.

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25 Responses to Independent School District Update By State Rep. Tom Taylor

  1. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    From Maureen at the AJC >>
    Gov. Deal wins passage of constitutional amendment to take over failing schools

    Senate Resolution 287 will ask voters:

    “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”

    Yet to come this afternoon, the House debate and vote on Senate Bill 133, which is the playbook for how the state’s Opportunity School District would operate.

  2. dsw2contributor says:

    In November 2016, Georgia voters will vote on this proposal… meaning nothing happens for the next 20 months.

    Then, if the amendment passes, Nathan Deal can spend 2017 setting up his takeover plan. Then –maybe!– Deal can take over some schools in 2018.

    Term-limits ensure that Deal will leave office in January 2019, meaning someone else gets to clean up the mess.

  3. Much Ado About Nothing

  4. howdy1942 says:

    Both the House and the Senate consist of 1/3 Democrat and 2/3 Republican. For Rep. Taylor to be successful, he will have to garner the votes of every single Republican and that appears to be very unlikely – too many Legislators don’t want this change. There issue doesn’t appear to be of interest nor is there any desire for this change outside of Dekalb County. The vote for the amendment in North Dekalb would be more than offset by the vote from South Dekalb. I think that other counties and their Legislators are growing weary of the mess in Dekalb County. I think that they see this as the creation of Dekalb County and, if the residents of Dekalb County want it fixed, then they need to step up and do it.

    Rep. Taylor’s efforts would be much more likely to succeed if he spent his time trying to change the process by which charter schools are approved and the extent to which they could be independently managed. This change would have precluded the entire Druid Hills annexation effort and not been so ugly and divisive as what happened.

    Some say look at the long shot that Dunwoody becoming a city was. That did not require a Constitutional Amendment and involved only the residents of Dunwoody. For now, I think that our best efforts are to find a strong school superintendent and promote a top-bottom ethics probe of the County Commission and top level administrators as well as the school board and the Dekalb County School Administration.

  5. Howdy, you are incorrect! Folks in Sandy Springs and then the rest of the North Fulton Cities would love to have their own school districts. I also bet that you will find cities in Cobb that would jump on the chance of being more like Marietta, especially as Cobb becomes more like South Cobb and Osborne.

    Their are many folks living in Georgia who were not born and schooled in Georgia, Most states, in particular states in the top 1/2 of the education list are made up of one high school large districts. That is how good public schools systems are done.

    Those 1.200 or so executives from Mercedes have not been sending their children to private schools. Maybe a few to K-8 Catholic schools that are 1/2 the cost of the ones here. The majority have had their children attending their suburban Jersey town high school, or one up in Westchester County, or over in Pa.

    The fact of the matter is you have to make $250 k or more to have 2 or more children in Atlanta’s top tier Private Schools that charge $23-25k plus a year tuition. These schools are full, and alumni and the local connected have preference. One from outside can’t just get their kids in Marist either because their are so many Alumni.

    Ask any doctor you run into that practices at the Hospitals that grew up in the Midwest or North east they all went to Public Schools. They are shocked and disappointed that they can not have their children in Public High school here.

    The real crunch is with the CDC researchers and MD’s who are limited to GS schedule wages and generally make under $100k. These are the top researchers in the country and a GS-13 MD makes $90k and takes 18 years to get to around $110 with a $10k medical degree bonus.

  6. So, is Dunwoody planning on starting a single city school system, or a multi-city system? Rumors are that a collective North DeKalb system is in the works with cities of Dunwoody, Chamblee, Brookhaven and potentially LaVista Hills. (possibly Sandy Springs as well?) Can you confirm if this is true?

  7. So, the CDC folks, many of whom do not live in any planned city at the moment, will be helped by city schools, how?

  8. @Cell: We have not heard of such a rumor whatsoever. If indeed, the door to forming city schools opens, we would expect Dunwoody to create their own small city school district. We could certainly envision agreements between these small districts and DeKalb as well as among themselves, just as DeKalb already currently has agreements with the City of Decatur schools. It could be a very nice system of cooperative districts. Perhaps the county could offer a state of the art magnet school for STEM and the ARTs as well as a 21st Century Vocational Tech school that students from city districts could transfer to. Remember – the state FTE dollars follow the students. All that is left is a bit of tuition to cover the local school tax boost ($2000 or so).

    Druid Hills annexing to Atlanta, however, pretty much cuts them completely off from DeKalb. They will most likely never be heard from again. That is why we encourage the school district to find a way to implement Dr. Lewis’ plan to move the planetarium out to Arabia – where the sky is nice and clear and there is plenty of land to build and parking for visitors. DeKalb students could then continue to enjoy the planetarium program for decades to come. Layer on this, the Arabia National Heritage site for hiking etc, and you have a replacement for the Fernbank Forest.

  9. Nikole says:

    I have no problem with the Constitution being amended to allow new districts. As a teacher of a failing school, I am offended at the Governor’s plan of taking over failing schools. He has consistently under funded schools and we know that money that does reach schools is tied to specific services. If he was serious about fixing failing schools he would visit them, ask what they need and give it to them. Instead, he will hire a friend’s for-profit charter, to come in, take over a school and replace teachers with newer, cheaper ones. We’ve seen takeovers before, in the McNair cluster and just changing who works there does nothing. Until we invest in creating community schools, changes will never occur. (See I hope the ballot separates the changing Constitution and the Opportunity School District into 2 separate items to vote on. We don’t need another level of bureaucracy in our schools. We need help.

  10. Weary Worker says:

    So how much will DCSD spend to fight this proposal? They have already chosen to spend millions to fight the annexation measures. How is it the system warns employees that they may not use county funds or facilities for political purposes yet does this? Spending tax dollars to fight these measures is illegal someone need to bring suit against them.

  11. howdy1942 says:

    Mine was just an observation of reality – if Rep. Taylor’s bill is anywhere close to the 2/3 vote that such an amendment would require, then why has it not moved anywhere near a vote in the House or Senate? This is the third Legislative session where it has been under consideration and Rep. Taylor has pulled it from any consideration this year. Don’t get me wrong – I want a change and an alternative to what we have now, but I just think that this amendment is a very long shot. I don’t expect much success next year either because 2016 is an election year. Also, I suspect that there will be very little support coming from existing school systems. I just trying to be realistic.

  12. @howdy: If you read the post, Taylor tells us >>

    The next step is to round up the requisite 120 House votes required for passage. As we enter the last hectic days of the session, with representatives leaving the floor for committee meetings and conference committees, I am going to hold this bill off the floor until next session and spend the next eight months talking with individual House and Senate members and hopefully tee this up in January 2016.

    The delay does not hurt us; the issue cannot go on the ballot before November 2016. I do want to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of GLASS (Georgians for Local Area School Systems), co-chaired by Erika Harris and Allegra Johnson of Dunwoody.

  13. howdy1942 says:

    @DSW – you are correct. I think that I have not been very clear. The Georgia Constitution ought to be amended to reflect the realities we face in 2015. When the existing amendment was passed in the mid 1940s, Dekalb was little more than an array of rolling hills and green country sides filled with farms. Now more than 700,000 people call Dekalb home. Perhaps that amendment reflected Georgia as it was in the mid-1940s, but not now. Limiting the number of school systems in a State should never have been codified as an amendment to the Constitution. At most, it should have been routine legislation that could have been much more easily changed to reflect a changing Georgia. Some school systems were much, much larger in the 1940s, but have now shrunk to a fraction of their former size. Others, such as Dekalb, have surged to many times their size then.

    I am delighted to see that Rep. Taylor modified his amendment to make it much simpler and much more easily understood. I support that change. The changes would allow communities, such as Brookhaven and neighboring communities to ban together and create their own system. School Systems, like police forces, are very expensive to set up and fund. With the tremendous tax base of Perimeter Center, Dunwoody would most likely easily be viable. My earlier comments were based on some conversation that I had with other Legislators who cited the reluctance of many lawmakers from outside the 14-county Atlanta Metro area who represent areas that are struggling to fund diminishing school systems and fear the creation of any new city systems within their areas. Most of them are Republican. I had used those conversations to support Rep. Taylor’s amendment, but each Legislator I spoke with was not very optimistic because of the factors I cited earlier.

    We need changes in the Dekalb County School System. The Legislature can and should change the way charter schools, such as that proposed by Druid Hills, are approved. Druid Hills should have been given the opportunity to try – we could have all learned something very valuable from their efforts. Instead, it was simply shot down by 5 board members who gave no reasons for their decisions other than just their opinion. The Dekalb County School System is too big. For years, it has not been managed well nor has it been governed well. It has not been possible to put the systems in place to hold it accountable. Druid Hills presented a very persuasive case for managing a charter school system consisting of 5,000 students. Perhaps, just perhaps, one lesson that we all could have learned would have been to break the Dekalb County School System down into perhaps 20 similar systems, locally managed, and funded County-wide on a uniform per-student funding formula. We could have even given more funding to those districts with greater challenges, but now we will never know because 5 members of this school board and its superintendent wanted to keep it all under their tight control.

    I hope that this gives some clarification – we need change!

  14. @ get the cell out, in answer to your questions about CDC. Back in 1989, when preparing the FY 90 budget and the Master Plan for the Facilities, much of what you now see on Clifton Rd. No one anticipated that 26 years later DeKalb County would basically be a pit hole and DeKalb County schools would be one of the top failing school districts. At that time Druid Hills Highs school and its feeder schools were still top schools. For those who could not afford the Driving Miss Daisy Houses ( aka 95% of all Government employees even back then ) you could still pick up a good house in the Lakeside High district, In Tucker High school district. Their were plenty of good brick ranch family homes within 285. Even in Decatur, but not in Decatur Schools even where middle class educated families lived.

    Let’s just say that I personally know that the question was asked by DC, the OBM and/or an appropriations committee, how much do we need to add to the Master Plan that you have submitted to pick up and move the CDC? We all knew the pick up and move CDC meant to the Washington, DC area ( most likely Montgomery County, Maryland up right next door to NIH, and FDA). I don’t recall it being passed by the chair of the appropriations committee, which was Robert Byrd. If he asked the question everyone knew that meant Byrd-land or as in the one song ” almost Heaven. West Virginia “. ) . That question was passed up the chain. A number was put on it. If anyone would have had any idea that within 10-15 years of that question that DeKalb would go from highly desirable with great schools to lacking in livability, with declining schools to right new schools that an educated workforce feels they can not risk sending their children to, the answer regarding the move would have been different. CDC most likely would have been in either Montgomery county or Fairfax County both with top notch schools, that folks feel confident sending their children.

    What has happened? Why do CDC employees live out in Gwinnett, Cobb, North Fulton? Some live over an hour drive to work away. They complain. Many good scientists take the lateral moves up to NIH or FDA, or they choose them first. Members of the commission corp take their first out at 20 years, instead of staying.

    Then there is the whole issue of the biotechnology corridor along the Clifton corridor. Why has it gone nowhere for over 25 years. Why has no private sector partners wanted to move into this area despite both Emory university and CDC being in this area. Here are some items off the top of my head: Lack of public transportation to the area ( at least a light rail line, could use the existing tracks). lack of Good Government in DeKalb, 4 th. Congressional district Rep has been sorry for along time, McKinney-Hank ( it’s tipping ). Since, Sam Nunn retired there has been virtually no supporters for the area ( his was minor). Ever wonder why the CDC campus is named after Roybal? Hatcher, Natcher and Byrd did more for CDC than Georgia’s delegation. Leanna Levitan was a good supporter of expansion in her county, came to all ground-breakings, 50th anniversary, etc. Vernon Jones and Ellis were more interested in making DeKalb darker than promoting the business assets your county has. The politics of greed, “I am only out to get mine” took over. Bad schools, and corrupt government run by race-baiters who are unqualified, scares business away. This is so evident by Eugene Walker, John Evans and Melvin Johnson. Who would invest in a county like this?

    You can not recruit world class scientists to work in a dysfunctional county, and send their children to a school system that teaches to the lowest common denominator.

  15. howdy1942 says:

    Well, the Tucker and Lavista Hills Cityhood proposals are on the way to the Governor for signature. And rest very assured, Tom Taylor and Fran Millar really alienated the Tucker community with their last minute antics to do an end-run around an agreement that the House brokered and was accepted by both Tucker and Lavista Hills. And Tom Taylor really hacked off Rep. Scott Holcomb by having a robo-call survey done within a district that is wholly represented by Rep. Holcomb without even giving the latter even a courtesy call.

    I am having second thoughts about Tom Taylor’s efforts to amend the Georgia Constitution to create new school districts. Maybe I will mellow over time, but I would be very suspicious and reticent of anything he supports. He really, really turned me off and so did Sen. Millar. After reviewing questioning by their colleagues, I think that both of them made their respective hills to get 2/3 vote a good bit steeper.

  16. @Howdy: We completely understand your disappointment. The whole process has been embarrassingly divisive. This last minute change to the map does add a layer of opaqueness to the process and has harmed many of the Tucker community’s trust in the system and in Fran Millar and Tom Taylor. However, the story we are able to ascertain is that it was the residents of the Livsey area of Tucker who went to Millar, Taylor and the Lavista Hills people and asked to be a part of that city. If anyone knows differently for certain, please let us know, but that is the public story. So, in essence, your anger should be directed at people in your own community as well as these legislators who all worked an 11th hour deal in order to pass the bills. But, in fact, you may end up glad in the end, as the Livsey folks probably would have voted down a City of Tucker bill when it comes up for a vote in November, and instead asked to annex into Lavista Hills anyway. That is where it is, and the sad part is that studies were done, after boundaries were changed and agreed to with legislators, yet those agreements did not hold true.

    What is done is done and as the City of Tucker 2015 email said,

    Although the map that was approved does not reflect the entirety of the traditional boundaries of the Tucker community because of changes made by Sen. Fran Millar, Tucker remains a solid community that we can all be proud of. We are heartbroken that many of you find yourselves removed from the Tucker map. Remember you will always be a part of the greater Tucker community – city boundaries will never change that.

    …Thank you for demonstrating character by remaining positive and above the fray during very difficult times. Please join Tucker 2015 in moving toward healing the unfortunate rifts created across the entire community.

    We couldn’t agree more. And we won’t be printing in-depth posts or discussions about these cityhood struggles as we don’t find them helpful in a discussion on our schools. In fact, we find the in-fighting to be a major distraction to our conversations here. If, however, in the future, these cities would like to choose to run their own school districts with their allocated tax dollars, we support their right to do so.

    All of that said, this has been a long battle for cityhood that has caused a deep divide between neighboring communities. The boundaries changed because one group asked to make the change or they would not vote for the plan. These city votes have little or nothing to do with the push to ‘correct’ the amendment to the Georgia Constitution that forbids the formation of any new school districts. The original amendment, written well over 50 years ago, could not have foreseen the future – enormous large school districts in very urban areas – or the formation of new cities around the state. The original amendment was written to address tiny, rural districts – encouraging them to merge together and share resources. Times have changed and the rules are constricting us from moving forward in new educational directions. In fact, we maintain that the rule forbidding new school districts should have been a law at the time, not a Constitutional amendment. We fully support deleting the 1960 amendment forbidding new school districts and therefore opening up to the 21st century of allowing for all kinds of learning opportunities.

    To see the map of the proposed city of Lavista Hills CLICK HERE.

    To see the map of the proposed city of Tucker CLICK HERE.

  17. Read more at the AJC (behind the pay wall) >>

    Georgia lawmakers strike deal on LaVista Hills, Tucker
    Posted: 9:38 p.m. Thursday, April 2, 2015

    The votes came after negotiators struck a deal on the shared borders of the potential DeKalb County cities, ending a multiyear campaign by cityhood supporters to put the matter on the ballot.

    The deal broke a stalemate between the neighboring communities, which have each been competing for residences and businesses near the eastern perimeter of I-285. The agreement put a Wal-Mart and QuikTrip into Tucker while moving about 1,500 residents near Livsey Elementary into LaVista Hills.

    . . . LaVista Hills, as envisioned under House Bill 520, would include 67,446 people and reach from an area outside Emory University to the eastern perimeter of I-285.

    Tucker, as described by House Bill 515, would be home to 33,301 residents and extend eastward from the Perimeter, with some land inside the highway.

    The two possible cities would share Northlake Mall and its surrounding retail area, with LaVista Road forming a border. Northlake Mall itself would be part of LaVista Hills, and a nearby Target and other stores would be included in Tucker.

    Lawmakers also agreed to remove the Medlock and Mason Mill neighborhoods from LaVista Hills’ map after residents said they wanted to consider the possibility of being annexed into Atlanta in the future.

    Both Tucker and LaVista Hills were previously in doubt because of a dispute between the House and the Senate over their territory.

    The House had attempted to solidify the proposed cities’ mutual border with a map drawn and voted on in December, but the Senate changed those boundaries last month to accommodate residents in the Livsey Elementary area who preferred to be part of LaVista Hills.

    LaVista Hills plans to provide city police and road services, while Tucker’s smaller city government would only provide planning and zoning, code enforcement, and parks and recreation.

    “There’s no way to draw a line that makes them all happy,” said Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, who was the chairman of the House’s border subcommittee. “This is the best we could get right now.”

    Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, said he believed he had an obligation to accommodate constituents who wanted to be a part of LaVista Hills.

    “I’m glad it’s happening for these people,” Millar said. “It’s about self-determination and replacement of services that should cost less and be more effective under a city government.”

  18. howdy1942 says:

    I also support major changes to the way the Dekalb County School System is governed and managed. While I would like to have the opportunity to have an independent school system that is governed and run by our community, I continue to think that changing the Georgia Constitution is a very long shot. Left to me, I would amend the way in which charter schools are approved and, following this model, Druid Hills would be a charter school and annexation would not be an issue there.

    Please allow me one comment about cityhood – I would refer you to the blog Tucker Town Talk and the comments posted there by those who live in Livsey. There were many people who were not happy with the boundaries drawn by the House and accepted by both parties. Most people understood, however, that those boundaries were “set in stone” and would be the only ones considered by the House. I am happy for both Tucker and Lavista Hills, but the right thing to have done if changes were going to be made for some in Livsey was to have opened this whole thing up and allowed everyone to have a say. That was not practical given the late date of Sen. Millar’s actions (two weeks before adjournment) and it is plainly unfair not to give others who live in the affected areas an opportunity to be heard and their thoughts considered. Having said that, I am delighted to be a part of Tucker and will work to make our community and our schools the best in Dekalb County. But I also like for everyone to be treated honestly, with integrity, and with respect.

  19. Thank you to “another comment” for the background on CDC.

  20. We know some of the people in the affected areas. Some of them were told a very long time ago, when it was still called “Lakeside City” that it would only be “a matter of time” before they would have their homes rezoned for Lakeside High School, but they had to sign the petition. Others on another street were told that Lakeside would be the only referendum going forward so they needed to sign the petition if they wanted the right to vote, even if they were wanting to vote no. As for the people very close to the school itself, there are two who were involved from the very first day the plan was announced in Tucker. They were called “Neighbors for Lakeside City.” One woman specifically mentioned that she was trying to sell her home and thought the Lakeside City would boost her property value. And since the Tucker group was organized by Elaine Boyer’s office, you can see why we might be a tad concerned that they were, in fact, not completely in favor of helping Tucker as much as they were just in favor of helping themselves. Same tactics as the schools. Some of the same people, too. Same ol’; Same ol’.

  21. howdy1942 says:

    Cell – My sincere hope is that everyone living in both Tucker and Lavista Hills understands that cityhood will have absolutely no impact on school feeder systems nor will it have any impact on attendance lines. In fact, nothing will change. You are correct – I was personally in one of the Lakeside meetings where the leadership of that movement stated that, at a minimum, a city of Lakeside would have a huge impact and voice on the Dekalb County School System. Has Dunwoody has any impact? What about Brookhaven? And what about Druid Hills’ moves to be annexed by Atlanta?

    I have also been present in all of the Tucker2015 meetings and the leadership of that group has been emphatic that cityhood and schools are two completely different issues.

    Schools should have no consideration in the respective votes on cityhood. Schools are a major concerns to all of us, but becoming a city will do nothing in the foreseeable future about changing anything about the Dekalb County School System.

  22. DeKalbParent says:

    Howdy, you are correct on the surface regarding city boundaries and school attendance lines. However, I can certainly see how the dominoes could fall that would change those, and I believe that was a driving force behind many of the folks in the Livsey voting district who attend the Lakeside cluster (of which I am one).

    I personally believe redistricting is coming sooner than later, especially if the Druid Hills annexation happens. Given the overcrowding already at both Lakeside and Tucker, I could certainly see a scenario where the BOE said, “well, if they already live in the city of Tucker, then let’s just put them in Tucker HS”. I could see this happening much sooner than a cityhood school amendment being approved.

    This is pure speculation of course, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t factor into the decisions folks make.

  23. GETtheCELLoutATL says:

    Without the school related issues, Central DeKalb residents would have never been motivated to support new cities here. There is no indication that the residents were unhappy with any of the services that the city groups will take over.

  24. GETtheCELLoutATL says:

    The real question is “What’s Wrong with Tucker HS?” Why are people so adamant about NOT wanting to go there that they will risk paying more taxes in a city with a new layer of government to worry about? and why is Tucker left to its own pathetic parent council that’s ineffective at anything other than keeping the community from knowing what’s going on? Shouldn’t a shared district (one board member) all attend the same parent council meetings?

  25. GETtheCELLoutATL says:

    When does Dunwoody Parent Council hold its elections, btw? Have you seen the response from TPC about elections? View it here:

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