Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Can Dunwoody Schools Be Independent?

Just when parents think they've seen everything in DeKalb County schools, Central Office comes up with new combinations of arrogance and incompetence to appall them.

No one has any business being surprised that DeKalb cities are looking for alternatives to the county-run public schools.  Communities looking to create start-up charters now have an appeal option with the State if the county-based school board shoots it down.  Arguments for "local control" only work when you're talking about extremely rural counties - which make up the majority of Georgia.  Urban and suburban counties are not going to be served well by a county-based organization.  Every news outlet in Atlanta has proof of that in DeKalb.

So what would it be like if Dunwoody were to take advantage of the ability to create a start-up charter?  This would be more likely to happen in the foreseeable future given the long road to independent school districts, or even charter clusters.

Here's a hypothetical.

Interested Parent Group (IPG for short) wants to start a new charter elementary school because their current school is overcrowded and doesn't offer the classes the parents want their children to have. These parents want to see a foreign language requirement and guaranteed art, music, and PE.

Let's assume IPG has gone through the charter application process, got shot to hell by DeKalb, appealed to the State and were approved.  They're good to go.

IPG has three key requirements to start up:  1)  Money.  2)  A location.   3)  Faculty and staff.   Needs #2 and 3 could be resolved by fulfilling Need #1.

There are three options for raising money.  IPG could apply for grants from major foundations.  Serious paydirt if you're selected but the competition process is long and the results far from certain.  IPG could pass the hat in the Dunwoody community for startup funds.  Also not impossible but how certain are we that our most well-heeled residents would be willing and/or able to write a 7-figure check?  The final option is the most expedient, the most reliable, and was used as a foil by those opposed to the state charter amendment:  private charter school providers.  Here's an example that is active in Michigan charter schools.

Let's say that our IPG has received a grant from a private foundation for startup costs.  Let's also say that they've contracted with a company like the one linked above for management.  Let's say they even found a location:  the stars aligned and, with the startup grant, they purchased the old elementary school site on Shallowford and Chamblee Dunwoody roads and are going to level the current eyesore and construct a new building and grounds.

The story looks like it approaches a happy ending with local growth and control of Dunwoody schools within easy reach of the local community.

Ah - ah - ah!  Not so fast!

The ending can't be that happy and that simple in Dunwoody.

You see, when you contract with a private company to manage your school, then it's no longer just a neighborhood school.

It's "commercial activity in a residential neighborhood."  And we all know what kind of reaction that will get.

Even if IPG managed to get their charter school property zoned as O/I (which is the closest thing the still-in-progress zoning code has to an "educational" use) it still backs up to residential properties.  Get ready for the angry mobs and the threats of lawyers.

The in-progress zoning code does not take into account the possibility off Dunwoody-controlled schools.  Zoning designations only acknowledge PRIVATE schools with lot size requirements.  (5 acres for elementary, 12 acres for middle, 20 acres for high school)  But with no standards for public schools, the loudest mob will win the day.

Dunwoody citizens dance a gleeful jig when their hostility alone blocks a day care facility.  The reaction to a K - 5 school with twice as many students and more activity is likely to be much more severe.  A school district would multiply the conflict further - more schools, more students, more to complain about.  If the reconfiguration of an insignificant side street brings out our worst, how can we expect to accommodate start-up charters?   Or manage a school system so that it can educate all of Dunwoody's children to our very high expectations while dealing with the outcry of those who can't stand having any institution other than their own home "visible from the street"?

The question is:  Can Dunwoody schools be independent?

The answer is no.  They cannot.

That has nothing to do with Georgia's constitution, that can be (and has been) changed.  It has nothing to do with the mental midgets running the DCSS Central Office.  Cut them loose and let the legal system have at them.  That fact has everything to do with Dunwoody's own citizenry, the most difficult barrier to overcome.

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