City Schools of Decatur publishes more info about $75 million bond referendum

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 27, 2015

This story has been updated. 

The City Schools of Decatur is asking residents to approve a $75 million bond referendum for school construction on Nov. 3. Residents would also have to agree to raise their own taxes by 8 percent.

But what are residents getting in exchange?

City Schools of Decatur has attempted to answer that question by creating an in-depth breakdown of what the referendum will fund. According to the presentation posted on the CSD website, current student enrollment is 4,658 students. The school system is projecting 6,527 students by 2020.

There are currently 1,717 students enrolled in grades Kindergarten through Third. The capacity of Decatur High is 1,163 students, CSD says, meaning that if all of those students attend the high school, it would be over capacity by 554 students.

CSD provided the following information on how the bond money would be spent:

– $22 million for additions to Decatur High School, which includes more classrooms, a media center, a renovation of the main building and more parking

– $15.4 million for renovations at Renfroe Middle, including more classrooms, labs, a cafeteria and performing arts space

– $10 million to buy land for new schools

– $15 million to construct a new elementary school

– $3 million for portable classrooms

– $2.6 million for bond issuing costs and contingency money

– $7 million for turning College Heights into an elementary school and/or relocating it

The CSD website also estimates the potential tax impact for homeowners.

Assessed home value             Yearly cost

$150,000                                      $202

$300,000                                     $404

$500,000                                     $673

$700,000                                     $942

The text of the ballot question doesn’t mention the potential tax impact. The question asks …

Shall there be authorized to be issued up to $75,000,000 of City of Decatur general obligation bonds for the purpose of financing a portion of the costs of (i) acquiring, constructing and equipping new school buildings and other buildings or facilities useful or desirable in connection therewith, including, but not limited to, new elementary schools and an early childhood learning center, (ii) adding to, renovating, replacing, expanding, repairing, improving and equipping existing administrative buildings, school buildings and other buildings and facilities useful or desirable therewith, including, but not limited to, Decatur High School, Renfroe Middle School, the 4-5 Academy and other existing elementary schools, (iii) acquiring, installing and equipping portable classrooms, including the infrastructure therefor, (iv) acquiring the College Heights Early Learning Center leased by the City Schools of Decatur, (v) acquiring 2 any property useful or desirable therefor, both real and personal, (vi) paying capitalized interest and (vii) paying expenses incident to accomplishing the foregoing?

Decaturish asked why the question wouldn’t include the potential tax implications for residents. CSD bond attorney Terri Finister said the law does not require it.

Finister said, “The Georgia statutes governing the authorization of general obligation bonds do not require the tax impact to be included in the referendum question. Under O.C.G.A. Section 36-82-1 (the ‘Bond Statute’), the notice calling the election (which will be published once a week for the 30 days preceding the election) is required to include the principal amount of the bonds, the purposes for which the bonds are to be issued, the interest rate for the bonds (which can be a not-to-exceed maximum rate) and the principal to mature in each year.

“Similar to the Bond Statute, Section 21-2-45.1 of the election code of the State of Georgia requires publication of notice of a special election for bond debt once a week for the four weeks preceding the election, and provides that the notice shall specify the date of the election and the question to be submitted to the electorate, the principal amount of bonds to be issued, the purposes for which the bonds are to be issued, the interest rate the bonds are to bear (which may be a not-to-exceed maximum rate) and the principal to be paid in each year. There are no statutory requirements as to the content of the ballot question.”

Here is the full presentation with more details about each proposed project that would be paid for with the $75 million general obligation bond:

CSD $75 Million Bond Package Final Presentation 08.28.2015 (2)

Here’s an earlier version of the presentation posted on the CSD website.

CSD $75 Million Bond


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  • Lisa

    Here are the questions that immediately come to mind:
    (1) in a $22m renovation of the high school, the net result is only 11 new classrooms. If this is really an expansion of the high school, why so few new classrooms?
    (2) the high school needs to be renovated. There’s mold in the band room. The cafeteria is too small. The building is super old. However, my gut reaction is that this proposal seems excessive. Is it really necessary to spend $22m? Why did the CSD’s proposal above leave out the drawing of the new high school that appears to show a multi-story glass front to the building? I’m not supportive of spending huge sums of tax dollars to help some architect win awards for great building design. How about presenting a plan that accomplishes what’s needed without all the extras? A bridge between buildings? How about we let the kids get 30 seconds of fresh air and walk outside between the buildings?
    (3) The proposed elementary school is incongruent with all the other schools in the district. Our small, sweet, neighborhood schools make Decatur special. This elementary school looks like it would be in Johns Creek. NO THANKS. And, it’s huge! This would be the largest elementary in the system – it’s capacity is bigger than Glennwood and Westchester combined!

    Bottom line: I support CSD, I support needed expansion and renovation. What feels excessive, over-designed and over-spent will not get my support. Decatur is asking residents to dig deep and pay a boat load more in taxes – CSD needs to do their part in presenting necessary, budget and affordable options to meet their needs.

    • O-K with K-5

      Not everyone agrees on the 4/5 model. I have experienced both the K-5 and the K-3/4-5 model and am lukewarm on the latter. It wasn’t awful but I didn’t find that it provided some of the benefits originally touted. There’s a lot to be said for the leadership and continuity offered by K-5 model, not to mention less transitions for all involved. I’m glad it worked for your family and won’t be devastated if the model stays but I just want it heard that some families like the K-5 model too.

      • Lisa

        I’m all for CSD hosting a healthy debate on the merits of the 4/5 model. The bigger issue here is that the school system is making a change with zero public discussion – and – not even outright addressing that they’re plan going forward includes such a dramatic change. So, lets not make this about 4/5 vs. K-6. Instead, as neighbors and taxpayers, we should all hold CSD leadership and the school board to a higher standard of transparency and forthright communication.

        • Hannah

          Just to clarify, the model is not K-6. Decatur has a middle school that serves grades 6-8.

          • Lisa

            Edited to fix that, thanks.

    • Dec30030 Teacher

      The bridge was budgeted for when the gym was built and then cut when other priorities presented themselves. What happened as a result is an inability for a free flow of student traffic from one building to the other. Decatur is an in-town high school with no ability to close off the campus. Therefore, all doors must be locked at all times. This creates a problem when a kid asks to run to their locker (in the other building), or the media center (in the other building.) They currently have someone that mans the front door of the main building, but when the gym/fine arts building was built (which also has several classrooms spaces) the ability to go from one building to the other became extremely difficult. I don’t want my kid’s safety compromised because a student feels the need to put a rock in the door to hold it open while he runs to the next building. Therefore, I support the bridge.

      That said, I agree that it is far too few classrooms given the dollar amount. It makes me think there is a typo or error in the document. (I hope someone from CSD clarifies!)

      I know we don’t want to overpay for design, but I go by other schools like Tucker and Druid Hills and I want that for my kid–I want him to have a nice place to go to school just like I want a nice home to come home to. I’m interested in a good blend of form and function.

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks Dan. I find it hard to believe that a $75 million bond referendum will only increase taxes for a $300,000 home by $400. Those who were around for the last bond vote for the high school gym and stadium were told the increase in taxes would be around $200 or “the cost of a few good beers and cocktails” and that bond request was much smaller.
    Here are a few things I will keep in mind when considering the bond:
    Those who live in a $300,000 Decatur home already pay over $5,000 in taxes to the City of Decatur. This does not include county taxes.
    Our home values are constantly raised which leading to higher taxes.
    For retired citizens living on a fixed income, even $400 is too much.
    The City will fail to convince the legislature to shift the tax burden away from seniors to younger homeowners. Decatur has no influence under the Golden Dome.
    Most Decatur property owners have no kids in the schools. I believe they support the schools but there are limits to this.
    Now I have other concerns, mismanagement, deceit, and the progressive instructional slant but the financial costs are most important.

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