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DeKalb County Board of Education responds to criticism over Druid Hills renovation plan

ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – The DeKalb County Board of Education has now responded to Georgia’s State School Superintendent Richard Wood, who criticized the handling of the problem at Druid Hills High School. They sent the following response to his April 25 letter:

The DeKalb County Board of Education is committed to providing safe and supportive learning environments for students and staff throughout the District. To that end, our board authorized the development of a comprehensive master plan to establish strategic, district-wide goals as the basis for future construction expenditures and planned facilities improvements. Since receiving the comprehensive master plan earlier this year, we have been working as a board to address the District’s facilities – although it is fair to acknowledge that communications between the Board and the Superintendent have broken down on this issue. Nevertheless, be assured this work will continue. The Superintendent is charged with the responsibility of the day-to-day operations to address immediate and critical function needs in accordance with the policy and budget.

We recognize there are conditions at some facilities through the District, including at Druid Hills High School, which require urgent attention. We applaud the efforts of students to increase awareness of such conditions, and we assure the students, their families, and our staff that we, as a board, are committed to promptly and properly addressing such conditions. We have allowed for emergency protocols that are built with policies as well as the annual budget.

We are concerned that your department has concluded that conditions at Druid Hills High School have been addressed in a “solely cosmetic” manner. Pursuant to our purchasing policy, the Superintendent is empowered to promptly address any situation that threatens to jeopardize the health, welfare, or safety of students, staff, the District, or the public by foregoing competitive selection rules for purchasing goods and services. Robert R. Freeman Administrative Complex 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd. | Stone Mountain, GA 30083 678.676.1200 | www.dekalbschoolsga.org

It is our expectation that such authority is appropriately exercised; it is our expectation that the Superintendent will welcome support and technical assistance from the Georgia Department of Education to address unacceptable conditions at Druid Hills High School as well as other District facilities; and it our expectation that the Superintendent will take all reasonable and necessary steps to comply with the department’s plans for corrective action.

Please be assured that the issues will be addressed with the appropriate actions, and further will provide the Georgia Department of Education with the confidence to approve the District’s Facility Plan.

Very truly yours,

Vickie B. Turner

Chair, DeKalb County Board of Education

cc: DeKalb County Board of Education

Mrs. Cheryl Watson-Harris, Superintendent

ORIGINAL STORY

On Monday, the state superintendent sent a fiery letter to DeKalb County leadership after the district voted against major renovations to Druid Hills High School.

“Your governance team has also cited a perceived lack of funding. In reality, there has been a lack of leadership, responsibility, and urgency regarding this core responsibility of DeKalb County Schools: providing safe and fully functioning facilities,” said Richard Woods, Georgia’s State School Superintendent, in a letter addressed to members of the DeKalb County Schools Board of Education.

The letter comes after CBS46 learned that members of the Georgia Department of Education toured the Druid Hills High School last week.

Superintendent Woods addressed observations from the tour in his letter.

“Of even greater concern, most of these fixes were solely cosmetic, and it was clear not only that significant issues with the facility remain, but that regular maintenance has been largely neglected. This is unacceptable,” said Woods, in the letter acquired by CBS46.

RELATED: Superintendent responds after students expose ‘disgusting’ conditions at Druid Hills High

The letter, the latest in a dramatic debate over renovations to Druid Hills High School, suggests the State could withhold millions of dollars in reimbursement funding should the County not act to address the school’s conditions.

“I will not recommend DeKalb County Schools’ facilities plan for State Board of Education approval while these fundamental issues and concerns remain. DeKalb’s facilities plan will not move forward in its current form,” wrote Superintendent Woods.

This letter jeopardizes millions of dollars for renovations to DeKalb County Schools, not just at Druid Hills High School.

A spokesperson for the State said DeKalb County Schools would not be eligible to submit a Capital Outlay applications, which would reimburse the district for renovations, without an approved Local Facilities Plan.

This letter explicitly says the state superintendent does not recommend the Local Facilities Plan be approved “without plans for corrective action regarding the concerns outlined in his letter,” per a state spokesperson.

Earlier this month, student released a video that showcased observed issues within the school.

Students claim they have constant leaks, raw sewage pooling, exposed wires, and rampant mold.

Druid Hills was initially placed on a priority list that called for significant renovations to the DeKalb County school.

Last week, with students and parents rallying outside the district headquarters, the School Board voted to remove Druid Hills from that priority list and instead distribute those funds to schools across the district.

“It’s really sad that we’re willing to expose this group of kids to conditions which I think would be unacceptable to anywhere else,” said Marshall Orson, a Board member who sought to keep DHHS on the priority list.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the district was still looking for clarity on the repercussions of the vote.

She did not know how much the renovations would cost, what their funding source would be, which schools would be prioritized, or when renovations would begin.

“The vote went the way that it did and now it’s my responsibility as the superintendent to take the information, unpack it, and come up with a plan for implementation,” said Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris, in an interview with CBS46.

RELATED: DeKalb School Board votes against major renovations to Druid Hills High

In the letter sent Monday, the state superintendent detailed funding options for DeKalb County Schools, including using federal COVID relief dollars.

CBS46 reached out to DeKalb County Schools for a reaction to this letter, but a spokesperson was not able to provide comment. We will update when the district responds.

https://www.cbs46.com/2022/04/25/state-fires-back-dekalb-county-schools-over-druid-hills-renovation-plan/