DeKalb school district unveils long-term plan to address overcrowding

The DeKalb County School District is planning major facility upgrades over the next decade to deal with overcrowding and underutilization in schools.

The DeKalb County School District is planning major facility upgrades over the next decade to deal with overcrowding and underutilization in schools.

A 10-year draft master plan for the DeKalb County School District aims to fix overcrowding and the underutilization of existing resources.

The plan, recently unveiled online, also addresses old facilities that need upgrades. More than a dozen campuses would undergo major construction projects.

“Everyone won’t get everything, but everyone will get something,” DeKalb Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said in a prerecorded presentation.

Some elementary schools would be consolidated under this plan, while others would be turned into K-8 facilities. Some high schools would add career technical programs or be converted into magnet schools. It would also add an early learning center in nearly every region.

Without changing anything, the district’s assessments show, schools in the northern part of the county will be over or near-capacity by 2030, while schools in the southern region will be underutilized. Chamblee High School, for example, is projected to be over capacity, while Towers High School in Decatur is projected to be at 42% capacity.

The draft showed how the district intends to spend its just-renewed education special purpose local option sales tax (E-SPLOST). The tax is expected to bring in almost $743 million to pay for capital improvements in the district. Residents approved the tax in November for the sixth time with 81% of the votes, despite not knowing specifically which projects it would fund.

There was no project list because the pandemic pushed the usual assessment and planning process back, explained Hans Williams, the district’s director of planning and E-SPLOST programming.

“It was not possible to put out a project list that the district could stand behind and say, ‘Yes, we commit to every single one of these projects,’” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was too much of a possibility of committing to something that we ended up ultimately not moving forward with.”

District staff and an outside firm have been assessing the needs and gathering public input for months. The public is invited to weigh in again at a virtual meeting on the district’s website at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The final draft will be presented to the school board in January.

Under the plan, the district would complete construction projects at the following facilities by 2025: Cross Keys High, Cross Keys Middle, Idlewood Elementary, Jolly Elementary, Sequoyah High, Sequoyah Middle and Stoneview Elementary, as well as the consolidated Cary Reynolds and Dresden elementary schools. Austin Elementary, Dunwoody-Chamblee Elementary and Smoke Rise Elementary would be converted into K-8 schools. The plan also calls for creating a career academy at McNair High, a cyber technology academy at Towers High and a Flex Academy.

“Nothing’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Barbara Crum, with Perkins and Will Architects, which is part of the team working on the plan. “This is long term.”