Dunwoody donation causes debate

DeKalb County School District approved a $1.2 million donation for athletic facility improvements to Dunwoody High School on April 17 that stirred debate on E-SPLOST V projects. Photo submitted.

An approved $1.2 million donation from a Dunwoody booster club stirred controversy April 17 during a DeKalb County School District (DCSD) board of education meeting.

The donation—which will go toward artificial turf, seating, outdoor lighting, track replacement, restrooms and a concession stand—will be used in conjunction with $790,000 in E-SPLOST V funds already allocated to Dunwoody High School from the district.

According to DCSD officials, the combination of funds will allow the project to be completed faster than originally scheduled. While the project wasn’t originally scheduled to begin until July 2020, DCSD chief operations officer Joshua Williams said the funds will allow the project to begin within nine months.

Before approving the donation, board members raised questions concerning the use of E-SPLOST funds, particularly with regards to completing a project under budget.

Board member Marshall Orson said he appreciates setting a precedent in public-private partnerships, but suggested the board make a ruling on over-funded capital projects.

Currently, E-SPLOST funds for projects that are completed under budget return to the district and are used on other scheduled E-SPLOST projects.

Orson suggested that if a project is scheduled for $790,000 but is completed for $700,000—due to a donation or similar source of outside funds— the remaining $90,000 should be used for continued improvements on the same project.

He said the ruling should remain consistent throughout the district—even if it means modifying policy—and not allow exceptions, as is the case with Dunwoody High School, because of a donation.

“We have schools that cannot generate this kind of contribution,” Orson said. “If we’re going to do it for [Dunwoody High School], we have to do it for everyone…

[If we didn’t] we would almost be exacerbating inequality. We’re saying to those schools that don’t have the ability to generate those kinds of donations, ‘Sorry, you don’t get the benefit of retaining those funds for additional investment.’”

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Board chairman Melvin Johnson said setting such a precedent could be dangerous for the district.

“I think we’re asking for trouble,” Johnson said. “I don’t have a problem with a donation but if we do it for this category what’s going to prevent us from another scenario on the same track? We’re opening up a box.”

Board member Vicki Turner said she was fine with the current policy and appreciated reallocating funds from projects that are completed under budget. She was supported by fellow board members Joyce Morley and Michael Erwin.

The board of education approved the donation without adopting a new policy pending an architectural feasibility study. The study will analyze whether the project will interfere with an incoming 26-classroom addition to Dunwoody High School.

Dunwoody High School’s booster club, the DHS Community Association, outlined its intent to raise funds for the school—titled the Game on! Capital Campaign—in October 2016. The organization has raised more than $400,000 and plans to continue raising funds for the next few years to match the approved $1.2 million.

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