With few details, DeKalb Schools approves contract to ease crowding

Noel Maloof is currently the DeKalb County School District's deputy chief operations officer. (FILE PHOTO)
Noel Maloof is currently the DeKalb County School District's deputy chief operations officer. (FILE PHOTO)

The DeKalb County Board of Education approved a $2 million contract on Monday for work on its comprehensive master plan to alleviate schoolhouse overcrowding, but shared no details with the public before the vote.

The district chose architecture firm Perkins & Will for the project, at a cost of $1,960,440. District officials have not said what the money will cover, how long it will take and whether plans have changed since plans to address overcrowding were announced in February by former Superintendent Ramona Tyson.

Noel Maloof, the district’s deputy chief operations officer, said during the school board’s monthly meeting that the information could have been seen as “controversial” and possibly “slow the process down.”

“We are on a specific timeline with this,” Maloof said, adding this isn’t the first time the district has withheld information during board meetings.

He was responding to a comment board vice chairwoman Vickie B. Turner read from a resident who was concerned that nothing was divulged to the public about the contract.

“I am committed to the comprehensive master plan and the need for it,” Turner said. “I really, really appreciate your honest answer. I do. I may not totally agree with it, but I really do appreciate that honesty. I believe just because that’s the way we’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean we continue it.”

In February, the school board approved plans for several immediate moves to alleviate overcrowding, including moving the popular Kittredge Magnet School from its Brookhaven site to an empty school building on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta.

Parents spoke out against the plan, saying they were not consulted enough by district officials for the initial presentation to the school board in January.

While the coronavirus is forcing DeKalb to begin the school year virtually, plans are being made to bring students back for face-to-face instruction, Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said. Alleviating overcrowding is still a priority for the district, which could see students soon return to campuses.

Maloof said Monday the item was posted as an agenda item with no content. Information available online Wednesday shows the score sheet the district used with several companies considered for the contract, as well as the official request for proposals and a timeline for the process.

Board member Joyce Morley suggested a disclaimer be used to inform the public why documents may not appear.

“I appreciate your honesty now, but be honest from the beginning,” board member Joyce Morley told Maloof during Monday’s meeting. “The taxpayers have a right to know. Committing something by a matter of omission is the commission of something that may not look right.”

Not including documents available to the public through the state’s Open Records Act “undermines the spirit of access law,” said Jonathan Peters, an expert on Georgia’s Open Records Act.

“These access laws are grounded in political theory,” said Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia. Because our government is based on the will of the people, citizens need to know what the government is doing.”