Op-Ed: The CSD Expansion Conversation

An op-ed from frequent DM commenter and some time contributor Scott…

If you’re trying to make something happen that’s contingent on consensus-building, the greatest out-of-the-gate win you can achieve is defining the terms of the conversation.

If you set the terms, you control the discussion. You dictate what is and isn’t on the table and what will or won’t be topics of consideration by decision-makers.

It’s not just a procedural matter. For those skilled in context-setting, it can mean an 80% victory before you even get started. And, for those who enjoy the theatrics and pageantry of the public process as much as I do, it presents a certain irony.

A frequent item of discussion here on Decatur Metro is the City Schools of Decatur’s inability to communicate effectively and yet, in terms of wielding this particular tool of process manipulation, their mastery is unmatched.

Consider the master plan initiative — specifically as it relates to DHS and Renfroe expansion — discussed recently. On the table are a variety of growth and expansion scenarios and therein lies the coy subversion afoot. That is, the entire premise begins with and is built upon the assumption that we must grow to accommodate increasing enrollment. But is that true?

First, some context. The business of running school systems and, with it, the principles and methodologies considered best practices, are rooted in the suburban expansion that has characterized growth in our country for the past 75 years. That’s what the modern school administrator knows how to do and, in many (if not most) places, it’s entirely appropriate. In short, land is not a limitation. So long as a city or county is actively courting residential growth and market demand exists to support it, greenfields fill up with subdivisions. And when they do, school systems purchase large tracts of land and build new facilities to accommodate the growth.

Minus the land acquisition, that’s exactly the tact being taken here in Decatur. The only question being asked is, how should the details of expansion shake out?

But what if the debate began not with “how should we grow” but with “should we grow”?

Think about it. Much of what’s happening — or poised to happen — in Decatur has been induced demand. That is, people are coming here because the school system has become increasingly attractive. The more attractive it becomes, the more people who may not have considered Decatur for whatever reason begin doing so. And there’s no greater inducement moving forward than putting forth this message:

Come! Not only will you benefit from the enviable quality of life presented by the city but we’ll construct all new facilities to accommodate your children!

I propose a different proposition. What if, instead, our message was this?:

We’re a small town with a small school system. We like it that way. Walkable, human-scaled neighborhood schools are a fundamental component of the quality of life we not only enjoy but pay a premium for, and we’ve got facilities in place to serve our four square miles. For all intents and purposes, we’re built out. So, as a matter of policy, we won’t be building any more schools or making drastic changes to the ones we have. We’ll maintain and update our facilities as necessary but fluctuations in growth will be managed with temporary measures.

Consider the implications, especially as it relates to issues of frustration discussed often here on DM. First, the teardown issue. Teardowns are in increasing demand because families with children looking to get into the school system want large, new houses with, some would argue, suburban sensibilities. But what if our schools no longer operated by a policy of gold-plated accommodation? Would that demand continue to grow or would it level out, maybe even drop off? Would some percentage of the folks currently viewing Decatur as a good place to raise their kids choose elsewhere? I believe they would.

Markets stabilize. That’s what they do.

This impacts concerns over the demographic make-up of our downtown residents as well. So long as CSD, as a matter of policy, demonstrates that any enrollment will be accommodated and that that accommodation will take the form of shiny, new facilities, there will be some number of those who accept the trade-off of not having a kid-friendly single family home and, instead, choose to live downtown. But what if the subtext told a different story? What if it said, sure, you can rent downtown to get access to Decatur schools but do so knowing that excess enrollment might be accommodated in a less conventional manner?

Those are the kinds of questions — important, policy-implication questions — not being considered because CSD has already set the terms of the conversation. Or at least they think they have. So I’d like to shake things up a bit because, ultimately, the conversation that occurs is not predestined. It’s up to the people of Decatur.

Option ZeroIntroducing: Option Zero, an alternative policy approach whereby we stop inducing further market demand by accommodating it with unsustainable — or, at the very least, expensive — growth initiatives.

Option Zero does not say that we will stop investing in the quality of our schools or in the education of Decatur kids. It says that our quality of education is more dependent on the commitment and character of our people and system than on the nature of our facilities.

Will such a policy result in trailers (errrr, learning cottages) to manage fluctuating enrollments? Almost without a doubt, especially while the impact of new policies radiates outward to affect consumer choices, and that’s something that will require debate to determine whether or not it’s a trade-off we’re willing to accept.

But that debate will never happen under the terms of the present conversation set by CSD.

Personally, I don’t even know if, given all choices, I’d choose Option Zero. But I believe the city is fundamentally shortchanged if it’s not at least discussed. And remember, we have not one, but two opportunities to define the outcome. First, CSD cannot just float a general obligation bond. Only the city commission can do that, which means that, at least in theory, expansion efforts could be shut down before they even reached the ballot box. But say our city leadership decides to issue the bond anyways. Even then, it will be subject to a public vote.

Don’t we want that vote to be as informed as possible, with consideration of all alternatives and not just the ones, in their myopic view, preferred by CSD? I do. So have at it, DM Nation. Let this be the moment we take control of the conversation.

162 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The CSD Expansion Conversation”

  1. Scott, I’ve read your post twice and am not sure I understand your proposal. You want CSD, and the schools in it, to no longer accommodate students who were not here already? I read your suggestion to mean students who move here from elsewhere are not welcome, and our schools will not change, because it is expensive and time consuming? If you can please list other school districts that have tried your option I would greatly appreciate it. I’m either misunderstanding you, or you are basically telling all students not already in CSD to not move to Decatur, because we don’t want them. Please advise.

    1. Thanks for the question, Aaron, and no, that’s not what I’m saying. My point, which I was hoping was more evident, is that a process built on the preconceived assumption that we have to grow our facilities is a disservice. We do not have to build further facilities. It is not the *only* way to proceed. Instead, we could, for example, agree to accommodate future overflow through temporary facilities. But that option is not currently on the table and, thus, is not part of the conversation.

      As I said, I’m not advocating that we do or don’t grow. I’m simply advocating for a process that includes all options and not just the ones that serve suburban-minded accommodation efforts.

  2. “Would some percentage of the folks currently viewing Decatur as a good place to raise their kids choose elsewhere? I believe they would.”

    I have to wonder: Where? There’s certainly not another in-town public system choice (of comparable quality) that I’m aware of. I don’t think people who are looking at Decatur are going to head out to Peachtree City because CSD says their kids might end up in trailers.

    1. ” I don’t think people who are looking at Decatur are going to head out to Peachtree City because CSD says their kids might end up in trailers.” — And that’s perfectly OK. Choosing CSD knowing it would probably involve learning cottages (I just can’t write that phrase with a straight face) at some point(s) during a K-12 tenure would be a smart decision.

      This would be the academic equivalent of the domestic trade-offs a lot of us make in order to afford homes in-town, i.e., small closets & bathrooms, limited storage space, no off-street parking. If you believe that palatial surroundings are not necessary for high quality of life, then you have to agree this whole position is worth considering.

      1. I don’t disagree; these are all reasonable trade-offs. My own Decatur accommodations require that my family make similar compromises. And I certainly agree that the basic premise (“…what if the debate began not with “how should we grow” but with “should we grow”?”) has merit. My quibble was simply that I don’t really see people making the choice to go elsewhere because I don’t think there is much of an “elsewhere”.

      2. >learning cottages

        I, somewhat embarrassingly, laughed in the teacher’s face at the 4th/5th academy when she called them “learning chalets”

    2. I appreciate the quandary of parents who were expecting a small town school district with small-town classes when they moved to Decatur. Our son, coming from an 8th grade class of 14 at the Waldorf School did not thrive when he entered public school at DHS despite having a wealth of friends.

      Private school was not an option, so with a group of teachers who we pay directly, we have formed an individualized high school learning group with about 6-8 kids (learningtribe.com). We get our accreditation from a home school group.

      I add this to the conversation to point out that the tensions we experience with our institutions reflect the intensity of flux in our world. The politics, bureaucracies and vested interests are becoming too sclerotic to keep up with our changing world.

      I see a future where more and more parents decide to offer their kids “non-standardized” education in tune with their kids’ talents and needs.

  3. As a stakeholder without any stakes (i.e., children) but with a significant amount of skin (i.e., taxes) in this game, I very much appreciate this post/proposal. I honestly hadn’t thought of it from the angle of “not how, but should we continue to grow” before, but I am now. It seems to me that anyone, regardless of whether they currently have “stakes” in the CSD or intend to have them in the future, should start taking a hard look at how your money is spent–and start speaking up about it, especially if you have doubts that it may not be spent wisely.

  4. Like Cuba, I represent a no-kids household that is nevertheless deeply invested in CSD and our community, both financially and philosophically. To Scott, I say thank you thank you thank you for such a clear articulation of a different perspective. (In any given situation on any given day, there’s almost always a better outcome if somebody says, “Now wait a minute, is it possible our initial premise has a leak?”) The whole case makes so much sense on so many levels. I know you aren’t advocating one course or another, but it seems to me anyone who worries about our school system getting too big would have to give serious thought to this position.

  5. Thank you Scott. I am voting for Option Zero!

    I’ve said all along that planning for unchecked growth is a bad idea. It’s going to turn our school system into something that it is not now. And the growth cannot POSSIBLY be unchecked. I’ve never bought the idea that our school system is going to grow as much as the decision-makers are saying it will.

  6. If you’ve been in DHS, you know people don’t move here so their kids can be taught in “palatial surroundings.” They move here so their kids can be taught pretty well without paying private school fees. (Or for the Brick Store.) The decision to use trailers will only affect demand to the extent it degrades the quality of education. I don’t know whether it would (seems like it would to me), but if it does, it seems counterproductive, and if it doesn’t, you didn’t reduce demand.

    1. I had a similar thought. If we elect to “manage growth with temporary solutions” then we should be ready to get what we pay for. Physical surroundings do have an effect on learning.

      I like the idea of including a no-build scenario in any growth plan. But carrying out the no-build only pays off if we are confident that expansion is unnecessary and that whatever temporary solutions would not harm quality.

      The devil is in the details of what you do under a no-build, because we will do something even though it may not involve new facilities.

      1. I don’t disagree. But keep in mind that consideration of what the impacts of trailers might be (or not be) is not currently part of the discussion as defined by CSD. And it won’t be, unless we demand it.

        I don’t believe an edited and limited conversation is in the best interest of our larger community goals — economic, academic, or social. What matters is what gets on the table.

    2. Agree that there’s little about DHS that’s palatial except perhaps the athletic facilities (and I could be wrong there. I’m easily impressed.)

      But for some of us, choosing CSD was not so our students could “be taught pretty well without paying private school fees.” We may actually prefer public school even if we can swing the cost of private school. That’s one of the strengths of CSD, IMHO–a strong faith in the potential of our public schools.

  7. In transportation planning (and many other arenas) when we plan for new facilities there is a “no build” scenario. Funding is often contingent on studying what would happen if nothing were built. How else could you confidently weigh whether changing the status quo is worth the effort and money?

    You should want to know the differences between building nothing or option A or option B, etc.

  8. This entire op-ed dismisses the growing evidence of a correlation between the adequacy of a school facility and student behavior and performance. ” … quality of education is more dependent on the commitment and character of our people and system than on the nature of our facilities.” Quality education depends on both.

    1. There is always a study to back up your opinion. Kids are not going to suffer from trailers. They are going to suffer when so many people move into Decatur that we by necessity fired by unchecked growth lose the small schools and small classrooms that actually do improve the educational experience.

      1. That’s right. My kids survived the trailers. If you ask them now they don’t seem to even remember that they were in a trailer. They had great teachers in a great environment. I call BS on any study that says that trailers CAUSE bad anything. Of course, I’m not advocating for trailers at our schools. They are ugly and I wish we didn’t have them. But if we need them, we need them. Did I mention how ugly they are? But they won’t leave a scar on your kids, they really won’t.

      2. I did not say trailers are negatively correlated with educational quality. But all things being equal students do better in dedicated learning facilities. Literally zero studies show trailers are superior to dedicated facilities. Given the choice, why opt for an inferior environment?

  9. Insightful point about context-setting. I certainly agree with the premise that CSD sets the context, i.e. what’s on the table to discuss. Whether that’s because they are adept, the rest of us are naive, by accident, or all of the that and more, I don’t know. It frustrates folks who feel they’ve lost the battle before they even knew one existed.

    Re learning cottages: My kids and I have never had a problem with them although I am aware that some families feel that indoor air quality issues have occurred (not to mention malfunctioning bathrooms from time to time). But if enrollment truly booms as predicted–and I realize that’s a big IF–won’t space for trailers become an issue? We don’t have an infinite capacity for trailers, do we?

    Re Option Zero: The trick would be how to implement it in such a way that CSD’s attractiveness to new families was lowered without actually diminishing the quality of the education of our children. Will more trailers discourage the influx? I doubt it–there’s trailers everywhere in most public school systems. Smaller fields for PE and sports? Less common space? Less farm to table options? Less walk and roll? Less field trips? I don’t think that eliminating frills will discourage families from moving here–folks who like frills and strategic customer service tend to choose private school. The things that will discourage families IMHO are probably places we don’t want to go with our children:
    -crowded classrooms
    -lower teacher quality
    -more discipline, crime, and bullying issues
    -less safe facilities
    -lower scores on standardized testing, SAT/ACT testing

    The only thing that comes to mind that would limit CSD’s attractiveness to families without negatively impacting students would be if we limited our housing stock in some way so that less of it was attractive to families. E.g. no more bungalow to McMansion conversions, no new housing units.

  10. Not going to the same extent as Scott, but I do think trailers get a bad rap as a sign of poor planning. Sometimes that’s true, but they can be a sign of good planning. It would be foolish to build for the peak population. We should build for less than the peak and accommodate the (temporary) peaks with trailers.

  11. Thanks for the great article Scott.

    The basic premise of this country (and perhaps most of the world) is that things are only good if they are growing. The stock market, private companies, states, cities, airports, etc. are only perceived as healthy if they have increased over a given time period.

    I do not believe in this premise – once an entity has acheived a healthy, functioning plateau why can’t society call that success? One answer might be the pressure put on the system by those who occupy Madison Avenue – the advertisers (new! improved! 50% more!).

    Is it time for Decatur to draw a line in the sand and proclaim that we are happy system? Maybe we could get our own bubble?

  12. I would be pretty surprised if CSD didn’t consider a ‘no growth’ scenario and quickly come to the conclusion that the dominant strategy is to support growth, cause it is here and continuing — hence the question of ‘How should we grow’.

    Our little town is on the upswing, home values are increasing, population is increasing, median HH income has increased over 30 pct in 12 yrs, half the population has a college degree or more, it’s walkable, crime is not terrible, lots of great restaurants/bars and the finest public school system in the Metro.

    We know all of that can’t continue improving forever, but lets talk about just the schools – how do we improve them in perpetuity? Beside the obvious parental involvement and push from our well-educated base, I would argue that it is all about getting the best teachers and providing the best possible learning environment.

    To get the best teachers, you need money, good administration and facilities. It just isnt realistic to think there are enough altruistic teachers that will choose CoD over teaching at the best private schools with parents who are engaged, their fat endowments and up to date facilities. Who really wants to teach in a trailer when there are nice private schools with nice facilities all around us?

    Without the CoD schools we are the City of Atlanta – high taxes and no services. Who wants that?

    1. I don’t think teachers mind trailers that much (compared to overcrowded classrooms) and private schools don’t pay that well. What teachers seem to care about the most, after a fair salary, is decent classroom sizes, support from their administration, and being treated as professionals, not the lowest rung of the educational totem pole. Next might be good families so they don’t have tons of discipline problems and the children are supported in their learning at home.

    2. And it is not like there are realistically that many private schools and that many job openings.

  13. I’ve been moderated so I’m trying again. I apologize if my comments show up more than once.

    Re Option Zero: The trick would be how to implement it in such a way that CSD’s attractiveness to new families was lowered without actually diminishing the quality of the education of our children. Will more trailers discourage the influx? I doubt it–there’s trailers everywhere in most public school systems. Smaller fields for PE and sports? Less common space? Less farm to table options? Less walk and roll? Less field trips? I don’t think that eliminating frills will discourage families from moving here–folks who like frills and strategic customer service tend to choose private school. The things that will discourage families IMHO are probably places we don’t want to go with our children:
    -crowded classrooms
    -lower teacher quality
    -more discipline, crime, and bullying issues
    -less safe facilities
    -lower scores on standardized testing, SAT/ACT testing

    The only thing that comes to mind that would limit CSD’s attractiveness to families without negatively impacting students would be if we limited our housing stock in some way so that less of it was attractive to families. E.g. no more bungalow to McMansion conversions, no new housing units.

  14. Thanks for pressing the question Scott – I think we all agree that it is an important foundational argument to address.

    I see only three scenarios that will reduce CSD demand:
    1) Declining quality of education – the Zero Growth strategy may have this impact as schools become overcrowded, but the decline in quality will take time to be measurable. I don’t think that most of us would accept this as an appropriate way to address demand.
    2) Higher property values – Adam Smith’s invisible hand is working hard on this as we speak, but we still have quite a bit more property inflation coming if you analyze the tradeoff of buying in Decatur vs. paying private school tuition (assuming you can get your kid in).
    3) Improve quality of education in DeKalb and Atlanta – I don’t think we can depend on that.

    But I would suggest a twist on your proposal for zero growth… Instead of assuming that Trailers are the only way to address growth, I would argue that there may be different models to address the increase in demand. Would it be possible to field a magnet school that would not require the same type of infrastructure investment? Home schoolers are already proving that this can work quite well, but could a school system field a similar solution by leveraging current technology?

    This would only work if the model is something that is highly desirable for a segment of the population, and we are able to use our Charter System status to avoid all the State mandates.

    1. Excellent suggestion, Pierce, and again, one there is no place for in the current, CSD-defined conversation. Nothing would please me more than Option Zero coming to serve as a catch-all for the kind of innovation or counter-intuitive thinking that would best serve us in the long run.

      We’re a four square mile, dense urban city. Our default setting for problem solving should not be the same as that of a suburban county. There has to be room in the conversation for ideas and approaches like those you mention.

    2. Love the way you think, Pierce. We should take the Outward Bound thing to its logical end – an “unschool.” Kids self-select themselves into the unschool and they spend 180 days traveling (with their teacher, of course) around the town, region, nation(?), world(?) learning all of their lessons in a year-long field trip. Ok, so they have to come into a building to take their tests? Well, they come in on a rotating basis, so their physical “footprint” is minimal. Maybe we could serve 15 kids per grade this way? I can feel the growth pressures lessening already.

      1. Ive brought this up here before (I think AHID warned me against bringing it up) but if you’re open to killing the summer break, you can rotate more kids thru the school system without expanding it.

        Basically kids go on a trimester rotation and there’s always a group on break, so there are fewer total kids in seats at any given time. Yes, you need more teachers, but you don’t need more infrastructure.

        1. Clearly, DM, I’ve been reading DM enough to be on your wavelength, not enough to know you already brought this up. It’s a solid idea, would work well particularly in Decatur, and definitely worth $10 million payable to you.

          1. Your travel option is likely to be expensive…

            I would suggest a few other ideas:
            1) Junior and Senior structured internships – 2 days in class, 3 days in internship with a structured report due at the end of the internship and with feedback from internship supervisor
            2) Experiential learning program… akin to your argument, with less travel
            3) Special project – kids could apply for the opportunity to develop a special project (software, art, etrc.), supervised by a teacher/administrator

        2. Watch your back. The Serial Moms will get you for jeopardizing their summer vacation!

          I’d be for all year school if it meant more education per student. But it doesn’t. It means lots of breaks at times of year when families have no day camps, sleep away camps, summer college nannies, summer courses, gifted programs, and other options for kids out of school. At best, that means too many older kids sitting around home watching too much TV or their electronic devices; at worst, it means that parents of younger children are in a panic if they do not have enough work leave to cover the breaks or other reasons that they can’t get off work, e.g. essential services jobs.

          1. AHID, just a point of clarification, if you don’t mind:

            Is a “Serial Mom,” a woman who chooses to stay home with kids?

            If so, is the term a slur or one used in a condescending manner?

            If it is a slur or a term used in condescending manner, do you use it to imply that mothers of young children with paid jobs are pressed for time, whereas “Serial Moms” have much leisure and relaxation?

            If the implication is that “Serial Moms” have much time and relaxation and mothers with paid jobs do not, I’d suggest that your own post count and word count on DM would suggest that the assumptions undergirding your use of a derogatory term are incorrect.

            1. While I can understand that “Serial Mom” could be taken (or is) a derogatory term, you make a lot of assumptions in order to deliver your final insult. If your definition proves wrong, will you rescind your slap? Or is this really not about the term? If it’s just about insults, those sorts of comments aren’t allowed as stated in the comment policy.

              That said, I do understand the aversion to the term. I for one, don’t understand it so I assume it’s some CSD-speak.

            2. And as a point of clarification, here’s the definition I was given the last time I asked what “serial moms” were.

              “It’s from the movie, Serial Mom. It means moms who are very, very, very serious about certain domestic items and you do NOT want to mess with them. In the movie, it was wearing white after Labor Day. In Decatur, it’s summer break, neighborhood schools, the gifted program, and wearing Christmas sweaters after January 1.”

              1. Right. It’s a reference to an eponymous movie. The subtext is that since the excellently evil Kathleen Turner is a full-time mom and has nothing better to worry about, she becomes homicidal about trivia like wearing white shoes after Labor Day or the easy target of Christmas sweaters after New Year’s.

                Ergo AHIM’s suggestion that if you take away the summer vacation of the moms with nothing better to do, you’ll be in trouble. It’s not her first reference either to the film or to the relatively easier life of those who choose to forgo a second household paycheck.

                It’s your excellent website, so you can moderate or ban me if you want, but snarky putdowns of people who make different choices need to be called out.

                1. Please find one reference on DM or elsewhere where I have suggested that stay at home Moms have life easier. As someone who has done that, among other options, I have always known that all choices have their pluses and minuses and have value. The hardest is when a Mom has no choice at all.

                  I thought the Mommy Wars were long over. Most women have many stages of their mommy and job lives and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into a stereotype.

                  1. karass says:
                    April 13, 2011 at 8:11 am
                    Actually, I’m glad you’re going there. Given the world of two career families, kids struggling academically, limited school resources, the discussion should be had. But it’s been had before here in Decatur and the scars from the knife wounds are proof. Serial moms do NOT like to have their summer vacations messed with.

                    1. Yes, and….? That comment is not about Mom career/home choices but about being adamant about summer vacations despite other reasons for all year schedules. I guess I didn’t focus on Kathleen Turner’s career choice but on her maniacal focus. It was a Coen brother movie after all. i actually didn’t enjoy it. Too gory.

                      Enough said. No more serial mom comments on this blog from me. Cereal dads, maybe.

                    2. Oh, why did I think it was the Coen Brothers?–the gory part, I guess. It’s been ages since I saw it. I thought it referred to the last generation of Moms, not this one. But I guess it’s still sensitive so I’m going to tread more carefully in my white post-Labor Day shoes.

            3. Didn’t any of you see the movie “Serial Mom”? The one where you can’t wear white shoes after Labor Day? (Or she kills you.) This is a reference to people who feel VERY strongly about summer vacation. I’ve worked full-time, part-time, and no-time out of the home as a Mom. At no time was I a Serial Mom. I ALWAYS wear white after Labor Day!

          2. But as you may recall from the last time we went around this block, my whole idea hinged on the fact that studies were showing that kids from lower income homes mainly fell behind over the summer and that shorter breaks seemed to be beneficial. So, even if all of the things you assume are true, there may be another side to that coin.

            1. If all year school really does do a better job of educating, even given the same number of days in school days/hours in class, it should be considered. We also have to consider that the world is still organized around the summer break and it would be hard to be the only system doing all-year–it’s not just summer child care like day camps and summer nannies–but also summer opportunities–summer jobs for teens, sleep-away camps, Duke TIP program, swim teams, family reunions, summer study abroad, band trips, sports opportunities, etc. And it would be hard on teachers whose children were attending school in other districts. But there’s some advantages too–travel without crowds, being able to do tours when colleges are in session, probably more I can’t think of.

              1. One benefit of a rotating break schedule, is it would be economically viable to set up a permanent day camp for kids on break. Our current schedule of breaks can be very tough for 2 parent households.

                the downside is how kids would be selected to take break in the winter, or other times that are undesirable… there would be allot of bitterness if the schedule were forced on people…

                1. Meant to say… tough for households with 2 WORKING parents (or single parent households).

                2. A permanent day camp for rolling breaks, with great coordination between CSD and the main camp providers in town, Decatur Rec and the great private and church options, would be awesome, especially if enrichment, tutoring, special needs interventions, teen community service and academic options, plus fun and relaxation, were built in. DEF might play a role too. If the product was good enough, then all families might participate depending on interests and vacation and work schedules, not just those that “have to”. Kind of like what already happens with summer camps in the area. My only hesitation is that CSD has taken on a lot of new activities, approaches, and construction in recent years and I wouldn’t want them to spread their efforts too thinly. I’d like current stuff to finish rolling out, sink in with the students and teachers, get rooted, and flourish first.

                3. Another issue with the rotating schedule would be if children in the same family would have the same school year schedule or not. Imagine having 3 or 4 kids at different schools on different schedules … It’d difficult enough having 3 at 3 schools! Also, teachers would have to be paid more (as they are currently paid as 10 month employees) or more teachers hired, which may make it less cost effective.

                  I have heard of high schools having 2 shifts of students per day, but I would think this would also require more staff.

        3. DM, you don’t have high school kids yet so you don’t yet know how high school scheduling works and why “year around operations” would be a real nightmare for high schoolers. AP/IB examinations are administered by the College Board at very specific times. The EOCTs are administered at very specific times. It is important that the students are tested at a time that they have covered the full class but not so long after the class that the material is stale. That is why we have such silly start dates at CSD. Having kids at various points in their classes when College Board and state testing rolls around creates an unfair situation where kids who have won the ” scheduling lottery” have a better opportunity to perform well than kids with nonaligned schedules. Also, very important high school learning and internship opportunities for students of all means occur in the summer months. These opportunities have nothing to do with Decatur or CSD and could not be “custom scheduled” for us. The students relegated to an “abnormal” calendar would not only be disadvantaged with regard to mandated testing but also with regard to summer opportunities that can lead to scholarships, personal growth and college acceptances. Would you be willing to volunteer your high schooler for an “off schedule” given all of these problems?

          1. Yeah, I’ve been meaning to add that there were probably items beyond CSD’s control that would make this quite difficult in GA if not the country. I do think there are other systems around the US who do it though…so I wonder how they make it happen.

  15. Scott, I’m missing some of the assumptions behind option zero that make it viable. It seems to me to be a dominated strategy. I’m working off the following assumptions:

    1) The CSD advisory committee’s projections for enrollment are realistic (meaning many trailers)
    2) At best, educating kids in a trailer is equivalent to a dedicated learning facility (although lots of data suggests this isn’t true).

    So option zero is we educate less kids, at best, to those in a dedicated learning facility.
    The CSD options all account for educating more kids in a facility at least as good but probably better than trailers.

    I, for one, am uncomfortable with the goal of purposely reducing the amount of kids with access to an excellent CSD education. It would seem to me that we should strive to educate as many kids as possible as well as possible.

    Now if we include economics in the mix, I’d be comfortable with the statement that 58M is too much to pay for all of these kids getting as least as good of an education as the current system (although I don’t agree with it). But that wasn’t the argument presented.

    I’d also be comfortable with the argument that the learning disruption to the kids during construction outweighs the future benefit of educating more kids (again I don’t agree with it). But again, that wasn’t the argument presented.

    1. There’s no suggestion that we educate fewer kids or that anyone be deprived the option of a CSD education. There was an example provided that we accommodate overflow with temporary solutions rather than permanent ones but the bulk of the proposal is simply that we reject CSD’s framing of the conversation and instead have a community conversation that includes all manner of problem solving, not just the brick and mortar variety.

      Inherent in my belief that we can accommodate enrollments without CSD’s aggressive construction plans is my belief that CSD growth projections reflect induced demand and will be, in part, a self-fulfilling prophesy. That is, new facilities encourage growth in enrollments that wouldn’t otherwise materialize. Don’t build and growth may be lessened, making it easier to accommodate through temporary solutions that rise and fall in line with actual numbers.

      Again, I’m not advocating that we do or don’t grow. I’m simply advocating for a process that includes all options and not just the ones that serve suburban-minded accommodation efforts.

      1. I am not necessarily against the growth plans but I have been troubled by the lack of city wide discussion about whether this type of capital expansion is truly warranted. I suppose the existence of SPLOST funds, state matching for construction, and parents’ and adminstrators’ love of shiny new facilities make brick and mortar solutions the path of least resistance.

        I felt that the last bond referendum for Renfroe gym/DHS expansion, while badly needed, was handled in a less than transparent way . There was little community engagement before the full plan was presented. It seemed that only a small group of parents and administrators were actively involved in the early input/planning stages. It gave citizens no chance to vote no on parts of the plan without rejecting the whole thing.

        The current process is feeling very much the same. Puts us right into a simple thumbs up or thumbs down on a huge expansion plan without first asking on a piece by piece basis “Do we really need this?” or “Is there another less expensive way to accomplish this task?”. Voters are left to be either for or against CSD with no room for open discussion about all the alternatives and issues involved.

  16. I have read through these comments and am I the only one here who thinks this is a terrible idea? Seriously, you are proposing expansion of trailers only? With the hopes that this will be a temporary solution that will resolve itself because parents will not want their kids to be taught in trailers?

    Parents don’t want their kids to be in trailers. Yes, if you expand trailers, demand will shrink. And so will the main driver of growth in Decatur. When these (highly involved) parents and kids no longer want to be in Decatur, the school system will suffer.

    I personally want CSD to achieve their goal of top 10 in the nation. This will come around by an uncompromising attitude towards personnel, parental involvement, and facilities. Decatur is close to becoming a great small city, this proposal is a step in the wrong direction in my opinion.

    1. No, you are not the only one Ben. I like and respect Scott but I think he is misrepresenting the process that CSD has taken so far, and the realistic limitations on their options. It’s an interesting thought exercise to brainstorm creative solutions, but CSD leadership operates in a real world of cranky parents, baroque state and federal facilities regulations, and almost zero input into city planning or government.

      I got very involved in the master plan process this year, and after being initially skeptically about the growth projections I studied the materials and came to agreement that we’ll see a doubling of school population in 5 years. I also listened to the CSD planners who projected that the entire field behind Renfroe would be covered with trailers without a build plan, and once covered with trailers there would be no room to execute a build plan. I joined with many others in asking for a modification to the master plan that reduced the initial spending request significantly, and takes a more moderate, wait-and-see approach to this. The final result was absolutely not a gold plated facility plan.

      Anyway, all in all I’m very discouraged to see this whole conversation. I think people are asking questions that have already been answered, had they been plugged in.

      1. I appreciate the props, TeeRuss, but unless the CSD process began with the discussion, “We can adopt a no-build policy that forces problem solving through other means or we can pursue a construction policy to accommodate projections,” I don’t think I’m misrepresenting anything. As best I can tell, engagement began with construction proposals (at least that was my experience, and I tend to pay attention to such issues).

        I’m not suggesting that, from that point, CSD didn’t give you compelling data to support their proposals. I’m sure they did, and that’s not the beef I have with the process. My issue is that creativity works best with parameters and limitations. Right now, those parameters are (or seem to be in the public dissemination of info) based in construction. But I’m really intrigued what kind of approaches and solutions would bubble to the top if our policy was simply that we’re essentially built out and that we need to find other avenues of accommodation. That’s not me saying it’s possible. It’s me saying that we have not, in my opinion, pushed the creative capabilities of our community or our vendors sufficiently. As it appears (and, again, I’m someone who pays a fair amount of attention to these matters), it seems like an attempt to take easy suburban solutions and shoehorn them into a system, a town and a neighborhood that are contextually incompatible with that type of approach.

        I’m glad there were helpful meetings that you attended but I’m pointing my finger at a communication problem and an initial premise that I think is ill-suited to Decatur. My fear is that we rack up a motherload of debt which increases tax bills which drives out seniors in small homes which opens up real estate for people responding to our shiny new system which encourages tear downs and more homes with kids, both meeting and exacerbating the projections put on the table to begin with. As I’ve said before, a self-fulfilling prophesy.

        I’m not advocating that we don’t build new facilities. I’m advocating for a process that doesn’t begin with construction as the sole manner of problem solving. Everything you discovered in the course of your engagement with CSD may be factual but that doesn’t change the underlying point I’ve tried to make.

        1. On a side note, it’s my understanding (don’t quote me) that CSD has not yet shared any formal growth plans with any elected leader or city official or citizen board. If that’s the case (and, again, I’m not in a position to know everything that happens behind closed doors), they hardly have cause to suggest that they have “zero input into city planning or government.” The first step to having input is engaging with the people you’re trying to influence. That ain’t rocket science.

        2. While I’ve got a few minutes free from work, let me try to explain where I think the disconnect is.

          From the outset you noted that “if you set the terms, you control the discussion”. This seems to malign the intentions of the school board and CSD. It implies they have an agenda and a plan of attack.

          The reality is they tasked an enrollment committee with estimating the impacts of various annexation proposals, because the city was considering annexation, and the committee discovered a huge enrollment increase “baseline” regardless of changes to city borders. (http://csdecatur.net/master-plan/CSD%20FTE%20Projections%20without%20Annexations.pdf) When CSD and the board learned of this they did the prudent thing and mobilized a Master Plan workstream to figure out what to do about it. (http://csdecatur.net/master-plan/) Keep in mind that it takes at least 3 years to go from a plan to a completed construction project, given the regulatory environment they operate in, and so any possible build plans needed to be conceptualized immediately.

          Speaking of the regulatory environment, this played a part in anticipating a necessity to build. The state BOE has facilities requirements that deal in all kinds of minutia to include requiring blast-proof windows for train-track facing facades, minimum cafeteria/gym/library square footage per student, etc. You don’t just say “we’re going to build trailers” or “let’s think out of the box!” in this kind of environment, so they dove into the state requirements, met with BOE representatives (who had apparently reached out to Decatur with concern because they had identified us as the fastest growing system in the state. i.e. we are on their radar), and began to model different plans.

          And after all of that, Dr. Edwards asked for a master plan that phased in any building construction, so that it could be rationalized along the way, capture as much state reimbursements as possible, and keep us from possibly overbuilding. And that’s basically what the Board approved – a plan that gets us much of what would be necessary for 2016 or so, would allow for state funds to pay for any additional needs or pay down the debt, and would limit ongoing operational cost commitments.

          There is a lot of material that is not on the master plan site that I hope they can add. There’s an excellent powerpoint that goes into detail about the enrollment projections and compares us to other communities that have grown quickly. I wish everyone could see that and digest the idea that we may continue growing beyond 2018, because relatively speaking we are nowhere close to saturation in terms of children per housing unit.

          I’ve got to run, but last thing – CSD has been talking to city officials about things, according to Dr. Edwards. I think the City Commission is out of the loop, but city management has been engaged. So just to clarify, my understanding of how the two bodies are working together, the CSD administration is talking to city management, but the board and commission are not, and that may fuel this idea that no one is talking to each other.

  17. Wow.

    I’m saying this as someone who isn’t a CSD resident, but is currently under contract to purchase a home in Decatur for this exact reason. Our current place is zoned for some of the… less desirable Dekalb County schools, and moving into Decatur is simply our best option. We have no desire to add the extra hour and change onto our work commutes that the suburbs would bring. We can’t afford the tuition for the upscale private schools. And generally speaking, we kind of like it here.

    We come to Decatur practically every weekend. We eat at Leon’s and Raging Burrito and Victory, we drink at Brick Store, we watch football at Taco Mac, we sit in the square and enjoy King of Pops, we attend the Book Festival and the Arts Festival and the Beer Festival. We swim in Decatur pools, we play in Decatur parks, we check out books from the Decatur library.

    We’re already here in pretty much every way but one, and articles like this are deeply, deeply, unwelcoming. For the author, this may be a “how do we maintain current quality without overextending resources” but to an outsider it reads as one long case of “screw you, I’ve got mine.” Is this how you really feel about people who legitimately want something good for their children?

    Like I said, we’re already under contract because we want our child to go to CSD schools, so after signing all the paperwork, maybe we’ll feel the same way. On this side of the line, though, it seems quite cruel. Maybe you can explain your position more thoroughly when you show up to burn me in effigy?

    A Future Neighbor
    (using a pseudonym for reasons that should be evident)

    1. To be clear, having a no-build policy does not impose anything on newcomers that’s not also being imposed on anyone who lives here. It has nothing to do with inside/outside. It has to do with the relationship between amenity and attraction and the debate over whether a policy of always building more should be the only focus of the conversation. A creative city like Decatur should be able to formulate a public process that explores more than just one way to solve a problem.

      Welcome to the hood. No reason to feel otherwise.

      1. Yes, but surely you can see how “not also imposed on anyone who already lives here” doesn’t carry water – you already live here, your kids are already in or through the system, etc. To those who come here seeking access to the system, no-build sounds fairly exclusionary.

        By all means, have the no-build conversation, just be aware how it sounds to outsiders.

        1. I certainly don’t want to put words in Scott’s mouth, but I read his proposition as “Welcome, but come at your own peril. The schools of tomorrow might not be as good as the schools of today.”

          1. I hear an entirely different message: Our commitment to offering the best possible education we can is never going to waver. But we are going to look hard at every investment we make, to be sure we’re deploying resources on what really matters. We are going to examine received wisdom, e.g., “learning cottages undermine learning” and embrace or reject it as appropriate, and move on from there.

            This is not a call to draw the bridge and haul up the ladders. This is a call to question underlying assumptions and open up the conversation.

            1. “This is not a call to draw the bridge and haul up the ladders”

              That isn’t what I was saying – sorry I wasn’t clear. Part of his point was that market forces are at work. If you are coming because you believe we we are building shiny new buildings, maybe you should reconsider. We might be willing to haul in a few extra trailers for a few years until this whole mess sorts itself out. So, implicit in that argument is that the schools, while still excellent, may be in a temporary down cycle, especially if you have a problem with “learning cottages”.

              1. I don’t believe “we might be willing to haul in a few extra trailers for a few years until this whole mess sorts itself out” is an accurate characterization of Scott’s point. It certainly isn’t what I get from reading his essay. The point is that if we keep building more and more facilities, that in itself will keep attracting more and more people and what’s more, it will tend to attract people with expectations that expanding facilities will always be the default response to climbing enrollment. All those new facilities will cost a lot of money AND a rapid consequence will be that CSD is no longer a small system with all of the benefits and charms that are specific to a small system.

                Scott suggests, and I support the idea 100%, that we question the assumption that temporary ways of stretching capacity–for instance, learning cottages or whatever one feels compelled to call them–are necessarily bad for education. Other people have suggested other, various ways of getting more students educated well without building more classrooms. Any of those ideas, and a host of others not floated yet, may have merit and be feasible. The point is to make room for the possibility that we don’t need to keep building and expanding the physical plant in order to provide excellent education to more students. Pinpointing future enrollment levels is notoriously difficult and our system is so small (and landlocked) that we have no effective margin of error. Therefore, let’s explore all the different ways we could innovate and increase our flexibility to meet fluctuating enrollment, instead of focusing solely on building more and bigger.

                1. “Markets stabilize. That’s what they do.”

                  “What if it said, sure, you can rent downtown to get access to Decatur schools but do so knowing that excess enrollment will be accommodated in trailers?”

                  Again, it was only one of his points, and I wasn’t trying to summarize his entire article. Why in the hell are you arguing with me and trying to prove me wrong? Scott wrote an excellent article and we are all taking different things from it. One, I repeat, ONE of the things I took from his article is that we have some level of control over future enrollment based on the message we collectively send to those not currently residing within the city limits.

                  1. “I read his proposition as “Welcome, but come at your own peril. The schools of tomorrow might not be as good as the schools of today.” — your comment above
                    I disagree that’s what Scott meant, and I disagree that’s what Option Zero offers.

        2. I would only see that if anything about what’s being discussed here resulted in the exclusion of anyone. But that’s not what anyone is saying. It’s entirely possible we don’t have to build 50 or 60 million dollars worth of new facilities to accommodate all who seek enrollment but we’ll never know unless it’s an option under consideration.

          If you’re concerned about exclusion, consider this: Assume the bond runs 55 to 60 million dollars for facilities and, once those facilities are built, the space is fully staffed. For a house valued around $400,000, I’ve heard talk of a tax increase of up to $2,000/year. Those are the kinds of numbers that can be exclusionary, and not just for people of limited means.

          Sometimes incurring debt makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t. I reject the implication that we need not examine both options, and that is what CSD’s current proposal suggests.

          1. Frankly, a $2,000 increase in taxes would hurt my family. My spouse and I are professionals, but by no means wealthy. We cannot afford private school for our kids. We have lived in Decatur for over 17 years and would hate to see it get to expensive for us to remain here.

            I think the discussion generated by the “Zero Growth Option’ is needed. The school system spends taxpayer money–I do think they have an obligation to spend it wisely. And taxpayers have an obligation to make sure their tax dollars are being spent in the best way possible.

          2. And as I’ve posted on another DM thread, my no-kid household would probably pack up and leave with a $2000/year tax hike. 100% of the home sales in my neighborhood have gone to families with kids, so it is safe to assume my leaving (and others like me) would make the kid population grow larger and much faster.

            1. Another example of the self-fulfilling prophesy that concerns me.

              Tax increase numbers right now are all just grapevine chatter. I sure hope the city commission pushes hard for precise figures (inclusive of repayment, debt service and additional personnel and operating costs) before taking any action. That’ll be the day things really get interesting. Right now, there’s just too many abstracts.

        3. Future Neighbor – Welcome!! I’m pretty sure you’re missing the point. But Welcome!! This debate certainly is unique to Decatur and really only land-constrained places. It’s likely easily understood because most places don’t have the need to think this way. But we do.

          We are only 4 square miles and we have typically been they type of folk who appreciate modesty when it comes to our “things.” Many of us choose to live on less than a half acre of land, in a smaller house, when we could have gotten more land/house further out. We made this choice because of the quality of life here. We choose quality over quantity. Scott is insisting that we allow this philosophy into our school expansion debate, because it’s in our community DNA. We see a suburban “build bigger” mindset as the only voice in the current discussion and get worried. Is there a better way? Maybe, maybe not. We need to explore the idea – can we keep the quality of the experience, but not build more buildings? That’s simply the question. Is it really “cruel” to you? Wow.

    2. Dear Future Neighbor,

      You are not the only one who feels unwelcome by the anonymous rants on Decatur Metro. City Schools of Decatur teachers and staff read the postings here and a bit of morale and pride in our work is chipped away with each negative comment. The CSD staff would like to welcome you and your family to City Schools of Decatur. Many of us live, as well as work, in this great little city, and for the most part, Decatur neighbors are fabulous. There are just some who feel the need to spend hours on Decatur Metro posting negative comments hiding behind their pseudonyms. I wish they’d realize what this does to the devoted, hard-working, caring staff at City Schools of Decatur.

      -A Veteran Decatur Teacher

      1. I’m sorry it’s coming across that way. As a beneficiary of CSD, and friend to a fairly sizable collection of its teachers, I’m a fan. I’ve described myself as a current and proud CSD parent and that’s the case. I also suggested that “our quality of education is more dependent on the commitment and character of our people and system than on the nature of our facilities.” That’s explicit and well-deserved props for the teachers and staff that make our system so desirable.

        Personally, I’ve been hugely gratified by the conversation that’s emerged here. Almost every post has transcended the mud of internet debate and focused on the real meat of the issues. I’ve had my suggestions both challenged and augmented by some of Decatur’s most considered folks and hope the spirit of this conversation spills out into the process about to unfold before the city commission and, perhaps, the voters.

        Wondering whether or not it’s in our best interests to begin our problem-solving efforts from a posture of construction should not be demoralizing. It should be invigorating because it demonstrates a community putting children, rather than systems, first. How it shakes out, I don’t know. But it’s better to have the conversation than not have it.

  18. the answers to a couple of questions would impact my evaluation of the Zero Build idea:

    assuming the primary reason for all of the proposed new construction is to accommodate the baby bubble that’s presently passing through our school system, what are projections for student population beyond 2018?


    once the present bubble has graduated DHS, will we then be overbuilt for the student populations that will follow, or are we projecting a level population, post 2018, that’s roughly equal to the bubble for which all of the new construction was targeted?

    surely we aren’t the only community who has seen this kind of demographic phenomenon. can we gather any insight from growth patterns in similarly sized communities who’ve gentrified as we have?

    seems to me if we do project post 2018 student populations to level at ~90% of the bubble, it’s advisable to build to meet that demand now while interest rates are low. OTOH, if we expect the population to return to ~60% (pulling numbers out of my butt here) of the bubble, then i’d be in favor of more temporary/less permanent solutions.

    1. I think all you have to do is look around to see that the bubble will not burst at this 2018 date. My daughter has not entered CSD and won’t for a few years. She’s set to graduate high school in 2028. Right now she’s in a Decatur playgroup that has over 50 kids her age. I know my husband and I would be really upset if we’ve paid into this system years before we’ve needed it and when we finally do send our child, she’s stuck in a trailer. I think that we do need to be aware of all the available options, but in my opinion, throwing up more trailers isn’t one of them.

      1. You might as well be prepared for “being stuck in a trailer.” We’ve rolled like that for nearly a decade now. It doesn’t leave scars, it really doesn’t.

        1. just read that in spite of brand new construction that added new classrooms to Oakhurst, we’ll still have trailers parked in the playground next year.

          we are an exceptionally fertile community.

          1. Rick and I had kids in trailers this year. They didn’t seem to suffer, did they, Rick?

            And oh yeah, I paid in for over a decade before I even HAD a kid. Do I get some sort of refund since my kid spent half a year in a trailer?

            1. no, they didn’t.

              but that said, is there something to the psychology of spaces?
              i’ve stayed in a lot of cramped hotel rooms and gotten a good night’s sleep.
              but i much prefer sleeping in more spacious ones. (they also happen to be much more expensive)
              ditto my working environments
              is that my ego or do spaces truly affect our psychology?
              it’s probably a subtle effect, but i believe they do.

              i think we’d all prefer our kids be in large, open, high ceilinged rooms vs. the more cramped quarters of trailers, but as discussed this comes at a cost.

              fortunately, last night someone (TRuss?) began questioning the validity of some of the tax estimates being floated here: +$2000/year on a $400k home. I’d really like to see some real numbers on this. At $2000/year i’d be pretty grumpy. at half that or less, the idea of our kids arriving at a practically new DHS in 2018 becomes appealing.

              must admit though, part of that appeal is sheer vanity.

              1. The “up to” $2,000/year came from me and was put out there clearly qualified as community chatter. Other(s) have mentioned $500/year for the bond and a $1000/year on top of that for the staffing, operation and maintenance of the new space. No one in a position of authority, as far as I’ve seen, has come forth with specific numbers.

                I’m with you in that I hope impacts are spelled out in excruciating, but non-obfuscating, detail when the bond request goes to the Commission. Until then, it’s all abstract.

                1. yup, i recall your asterisk. the way taxes truly hit our wallets is going to bring even more intensity to the discussion, and it’s a shame we have nothing more than WAGs at this point. one would think this would be a critical detail CSD could provide–it would be foolish to assume they have carte blanche.

                  we’ve already seen a number of two income families bridle at the $2000/year guesstimate, saying they may choose (or be forced) to move out of the city–i’m certain their voices are proxies for lots of other people feeling the same way. we single income families are definitely eager to hear what the tab will be.

                  ah, the never ending battle between what we want and what we can afford . . .

            2. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. All I’m saying is that there are a lot of kids coming along way past this 2018 date that keeps popping up and maybe we should do something about it other than doing nothing which is what this option zero seems to be. I personally don’t want my kid in a trailer but that’s my opinion. I’m sure you had a perfectly reasonable experience with your kid in one.

  19. Not having kids, yet still knowing that whatever decisions are made will still involve us writing a hefty check to the city, I think I prefer to just bury my head in the sand and let the rest of y’all duke it out.

    Mrs. J_T, on the other hand, hates the idea of Option Zero. She has some silly notion in her head that, if we ever do have or adopt kids, they’ll get to go to some new monstrosity of a school that looks just like her beloved Brookwood!

    1. ” they’ll get to go to some new monstrosity of a school that looks just like her beloved Brookwood!” — That’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility if some people get their way. But then CSD will not be the small system that’s so beloved. And I can tell you somebody who won’t be here jeopardizing her own retirement savings to help pay for it.

      1. In all honesty, if we find ourselves staring at a $2K tax increase to pay for school expansions, we will probably also be forced to move out of this city we love so much. We are incredibly fortunate that, if we had to, we could sell our house tomorrow for much more than we owe on it. Of course, if we did that, I can guarantee you with 99.999% certainty that the new owners will be paying us not for the 1948-built, 3 bedroom ranch, but for the chance to immediately knock it to the ground so they can build a 5 bed/4 bath palace to accommodate their 3 or 4 spawn who will further tax (pun intended) the schools.

  20. additional info needed to intelligently process the options:

    this from the CSD website:

    “What happens if we do not do a master plan?

    Based upon the Projected Growth, if no improvements are made, then each of the current facilities will meet and exceed their capacities within the next three to five year period. This will force CSD to invest in Portable Classrooms (trailers). Each Portable Classroom costs approximately $35,000 per year to have installed and leased.

    Example: It is projected that the Decatur High School would require up to 32 Portable Classrooms to accommodate its growth. This would equate into CSD paying approximately $1,120,000 per year for a temporary solution. Another 17 Portable Classrooms would be necessary to accommodate projected growth at Renfroe Middle School at a cost of $595,000 per year.”

    [Rick] I don’t see anywhere where the total cost of the “temporary” solution (which is roughly, the Zero Option solution) is compared to the most viable option among those presented in the Master Plan.

    for example, adding DHS and Renfroe portable classroom costs together equals a $1,715,000 annual expense–assuming those numbers are fully loaded. the question then is over how many years would we incur the full brunt of this expense or some portion of it.

    for simplicity’s sake, let’s have two phases of temporary expenses:

    Phase 1: two school years 2014 and 2015 each at half the full cost: $857,500
    Phase 2: three school years 2016, 2017, 2018 each at full cost: 1,715,000

    this totals: $5,316, 500 in temporary classroom expenses between now and 2018 where the enrollment projections end. one could assume that for 2019 our student population won’t fall off a cliff and we’ll need to extend our use of temporary classrooms at least another couple of years while the bubble population ramps down, so let’s add another post 2018 phase of 2 years at half cost, so that through 2020 our temporary classroom total expense is $7,031,500

    now, perhaps, we have a financial basis for comparison:

    $7,031,500 for a temporary solution vs. the most popular option i recall being discussed, Option 3 at $58,000,000

    that’s a $51,000,000 difference which can appear to be an extremely high premium to solve a temporary problem, but one must consider that DHS is getting old and at some point, would need to be renovated anyway. the same is true for Renfroe.

    there are a number of pros and cons to consider to each scenario, but that will have to wait for later for me.

    1. First, I would not deem this a temporary problem. Compared with many communities we have a very low child-per-housing-unit ratio, and even in 2018 that will still be the case.

      Second, the enrollment increases will require more than just classroom space. There will have to be some kind of expansion of the common facilities such as the cafeteria, gym, and media center per state DOE requirements. Trailers cannot solve those requirements, so there is still a component of the “zero build” option that requires building.

      1. did any of the research you were privy to include post 2018 projections, and any other nuggets like “Compared with many communities we have a very low child-per-housing-unit ratio”? Are they publicly available?

        these kinds of contextual details help make a much stronger case for the Master Plan, as it makes evident our growing student population is less a bubble phenomena and more a long-term growth trend that can only be accommodated by permanent expansion.

        to whatever extent anyone at COD/CSD is interested, i’d be happy to lend my services to the messaging of this Master Plan offering–it’s vital to the success of any communications initiative that the most salient and relavent facts ****from the audience’s perspective**** are properly framed and presented.

  21. This basically is starting to boil down to parents with school-aged kids (who want the expansion) vs. those without (who don’t want to pay for it). Nice.

    1. not necessarily, Ben.

      I have a rising first grader and a rising fourth grader, and the jury is still out for me on new vs. temporary classrooms. both of our kids were in trailers this past year, and while i would have preferred both of their classrooms were located inside Oakhurst, neither of them complained about being in trailers, nor did i have the sense their education suffered because of it.

      ****i don’t like the optics of trailers****, but based on my personal data, i can’t say it’s an inferior educational solution.

      the key for me moving forward until our kids graduate, is that CSD is able to continue to deliver the quality of education i expect for the tax dollars we pay. i’ve invested 18 years of my life, my tax dollars, and my smart ass comments in this community, and do not want to see it squandered with unnecessary expenses that have questionable returns.

      on the other hand, i’m willing to pay additional taxes to ensure not only my but future Decatur students are able to enjoy the quality of education we’ve all striven to provide our city’s children, but i’m only willing to do this if a logical and financially responsible case can be made for permanent new construction.

    2. I think we need to keep in mind that if we choose not to build more buildings we should also figure out other options for our kids (and teachers) than simply putting them in trailers. We should blaze the trail in this area – it could take us to top 10 status. Experiential Learning, different school calendar, different class configurations, a zillion other ideas. That seems to be implicit in what Scott is saying. His is not an argument for trailers. It’s a plea to think differently. Shift the conversation. Can we keep quality without building buildings? Maybe. If anyone can do it, we can. Let’s explore.

      1. here’s an idea:

        COD asserts Imminent Domain over the AT&T campus at E.College and Eastlake and have it house whatever grades we need most.

        Prior to AT&T’s purchase it was owned by Oakhurst Baptist. It has tons of classroom space that would likely require few modifications, plus ample playground areas. It would make for a lovely school campus.

        1. Sorry, man. No can do. The AT&T buildings are a critical component of the company’s infrastructure. It is a multi-use campus (primarily as a switching station and training center). It also contributes to Decatur’s economy, especially when employees from all over the southeast attend classes and stay in Decatur-area hotels and eat at Decatur-area restaurants.

          1. i guess part of the calculus would involve whose needs are most important to Decatur’s future: CSD’s or ATTs? personally, i land on the city’s side assuming a reasonable deal could be struck.

            i have no idea what relocating a switching station of that scale costs, but their training operation is relatively small–i know because my home shares a property line with the facility and can see the daily activity there.

            when +$60MM is on the line, i believe lots of lateral options need to be considered.

            re: ATT, yes, we may forfeit some tax revenue . . . how much?
            yes, the 100 people I’m guessing occupy those buildings on a daily basis do spend money at area restaurants and hotels . . .how much?

            it’s worth comparing those #s to the tax burden our residents would incur with the Master Plan options.

            1. I see your point and it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I was thinking more in terms of the tax base (85% residential/15% commercial) and would hate to see the commercial portion reduced in any way.

          2. You are right that AT&T’s Central Office and Switching cannot be moved economically. However, they are different buildings from the training facility. Training entrance is on W College, and network ops buildings are on East Lake.

            That being said, AT&T just announced they are hiring 600 new people in Georgia to support new network build and enhancements. That will drive allot of incremental training to this facility in the next few years.

            Of course… everything is for sale, it’s just a question of price.

            1. Pierce, thanks for clarifying where Network Ops are located–i didn’t envision us needing that building, only the E.College campus, and while I’m certainly no expert on their training needs, it appears they need poles to climb on, class rooms to learn in, and a few line distribution (?) boxes to practice wiring on, and those needs could be met elsewhere without much sweat.

              ATTs use of the E.College training campus is very low density given the amount of real estate it occupies, and CSD would be able to make much better use of it, IMO.

              1. according to the Oakhurst Baptist old-timer I spoke to a couple of months ago, at the time ATT acquired these properties from Oakhurst Baptist, Oakhurst neighborhood was reeling from white flight, and the church’s membership had declined from 2000+ to a couple of hundred. the church no longer needed nor could afford to keep all of its real estate portfolio, so in came ATT who scored a sweet deal on a depressed property with a convenient location.

                back then, ATT’s E. Lake Training campus sat in a low-income neighborhood of ~$50,000 homes in a sleepy little town where there was plenty of space available for students. now it sits in a gentrified neighborhood filled with $400,000-$1MM homes in a vital city whose schools are bursting at the seams.

                it’s worth a look.

    3. Except I’m the one who wrote the Option Zero op-ed and I’m a current and proud CSD parent.

    4. I think you’re dead wrong about that. I’ll bet length of residence in Decatur is more likely to be a valid predictor.

      1. Yes. I think you are exactly right about that. Old vs new; stasis vs progress. Those themes have raged on this website for years and this is another example of that.

        1. If you equate old, meaning longer tenure of residence/home ownership in CoD, with stasis (as opposed to progress), then my question is this: who do you think is responsible for the progress Decatur has made over the past 30 years?

        2. Ben – I think that there is no way to oversimplify this. This is a darn diverse place when it comes to ideas, and everything else. It is not a one-to-one ratio of old thinks X and new thinks Y. Or those with kids think A and those without think B. No way, no how. You can’t do that. It’s a multi-layered, complex issue actually. I would say the worst thing we could do is to start throwing up divisive labels.
          Let all the good ideas flow to the top without pre-judging anyone who is willing to stand up with and bring a good idea.

          1. Yes, I agree that it is an oversimplification – somewhat. But I do think that this tension exists; I read about it in people’s comments all the time on this blog.

            And, I am somewhat frustrated by this op-ed. I am all for public debate and discourse, but I do not think that this proposal is realistic at all. I mean, 35 trailers at Renfroe? Come on. Why are we giving legitimacy to this idea?

            I’m not happy about the tax bill either, but I want CSD to be an amazing system, even better than it is now. And a school of trailers will not be that amazing. In fact it will be terrible, and it’s shocking that there are people that actually think this is a good idea.

            1. Ben, I don’t think anyone thinks a field full of trailers is a great idea. However, if that option remains on the table, CSD might not seem as desirable. It’s the opposite of Field of Dreams. “if you don’t build it, they won’t come”.

              1. This would be an intentional move to degrade the quality of the school system in order to reduce the attractiveness of sending your kids to CSD and therefore living in CoD. This is a radical idea and I can not fathom in any scenario how this would be a good thing.

                Even residents who do not have children will suffer because one of the major drivers of people moving here will be diminished or eliminated. Property value and the tax base will suffer and then services will follow. People and businesses could leave and we’ll be back to where we were 15 years ago. And this would all be done INTENTIONALLY. It honestly boggles my mind.

                Quite honestly this issue is a “problem” that any city would by dying to have. Our city is now popular. The school system could soon be the best in the state, and among the best in the region. We have great services.

                Come on people.

                1. I can’t speak for Scott, but I’m pretty sure that is not what is being proposed AT ALL. Option Zero is not hoping that our schools get worse. Come on, Ben. Of course any right-minded person wants good schools (except for ridiculous right-wingers who want them to fail to prove . . . whatever they are trying to prove).

                  This idea simply says that maybe building big new buildings doesn’t make our schools, and our community, better. Maybe it does, but it’s quite possible that in our unique urban, confined location maybe there is a different and better way that helps us meet all our goals as a community. There might be ways to provide a “top ten” education that allow us to be innovative and educate learners of all types and allow us to retain our historical character. We should explore the options. As it is, we are racing to build without questioning whether or not it’s the right thing. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. I hope that DawgFan is not rooting for our schools to get worse and scare people off. We can be different and better. It’s an option.

                  1. Definitely not rooting for our schools to get worse, and not at all sure how my comments got twisted that way. Too tired (and maybe too drunk) to type out a long response. My point was that maybe we can maintain our excellence while discouraging and perhaps limiting unchecked enrollment growth.

                    And WB, what in the hell are you implying with your first parenthetical? Putting aside political differences for a second, do you honesty believe any parent or any CoD resident wants our schools to take even one step back, not to mention fail? Not sure how political leanings factor into this equation. Maybe I am naive, but I believe we all want what is best for our children (even if we disagree on what is “best”). I give you that much credit, and I would hope you would afford me the same.

                    1. DawgFan – I figured you knew by now – I’m paranoid of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

                2. Ben, could you please explain exactly what you mean when you say back to where we were 15 years ago? Would that be 1998, when we were involved in a round of expansions and renovations in the school system because of increasing enrollment? When houses sold in a matter of days? Were you here then? These schools and this city have been great for years. It didn’t just happen.

                  1. He doesn’t know what it was like 15 years ago. Phyllis Edwards did not inherit a troubled school system and turn it around. It was a great school system when I moved here in 1989, but so were many parts of APS. DeKlab was excellent and innovative. Phyllis Edwards and the current administration are not solely responsible for our current school system by any stretch of the imagination.

                    1. One major CSD school system change has definitely taken place in the last 15 years. There used to be several great neighborhood elementaries, but also several very underperforming elementaries too- the school system had extremes of performance. While not the sole factor in getting us to the across the board achievement we see today, the painful elementary school realignments 10 years ago were a big catalyst factor. While I think the communication and process for that was terrible (still a pattern), I think the guts for leadership to fight that community battle was big. Just some props for going through a painful process for e better of the whole- there are of course many other factors for success of CSD, including fantastic, dedicated teachers and increasingly invested parents.

                  2. We should be so lucky as to have many aspects of our community be the same as they were 15 years ago.

                  3. What I meant was that this city has taken a lot of strides in the past 15 years. For those of us who lived in South Decatur, many of those changes are welcomed and have made this city much better. I used to live next to 2 crack houses and I am glad they are gone. I would argue (as written by macarolina) that much of the improvement in South Decatur occurred because of the foresight to reorganize the failing schools such that we now have an entire system that is excellent.

                    I have read through these comments again and again and maybe I am dense, but I can not see this movement as anything other than an intentional move the limit the attractiveness of the school system. Right? That’s the whole point.

                    Ok, so many of you are arguing that this won’t degrade the quality just because the kids are in trailers. A high school experience with 32 trailers is just as good as one with state of the art facilities. I disagree, but fine, let’s say for argument’s sake that you are right.

                    So, if the school system is just as good, why will the system lose attractiveness? Is your argument that it will lose attractiveness only because the lack of physical facilities will drive off only those who want shiny things?

                    Take a look at the buildings now. Compare DHS with Druid Hills HS, a beautiful shiny new facility. Why are people moving to Decatur? It is certainly not for the shiny new schools.

                    So, if you are right, and schools will not degrade but continue to be excellent and improve as you all say you want, parents will continue to move here. Then we will be faced with a field full of trailers and no way to expand (we can’t build on a site filled with trailers, where will the trailers go?).

                    1. Ben, i believe the major catalyst for this discussion is not whether we want to build lots of new construction to accommodate our growth–all things remaining equal, you’d probably get an easy consensus for that. who doesn’t like new and better?

                      the underlying concern is the price tag attached to it, and how the increased taxes will affect residents–some who, if, for example, their monthly taxes increase ~$200/mo. may need to move out of a city and school district they love and in which they’ve invested their lives for many years.

                      seems affordability is the bottom line of the hand wringing, and the desire to test the assumption that no other solution can solve our problem.

                      the more detail i read in the Master Plan, and the more insight i gain here on DM, the more i’m coming to the conclusion that a minimum of $60 million for facilities + millions in added payroll is going to be the only feasible way of working us out of our overcrowding mess, and unfortunately that’s going to drive some very good people and families away from our community because we’ve out priced their financial resources. that reality is bound to produce some deep unhappiness.

                    2. Ok, this is something I understand. Yes, higher taxes will absolutely cause some people to leave. I agree this is not a good thing. I certainly am not excited about paying higher taxes.

                      I would argue, however, that higher taxes is likely to be a bigger deterrent to growth than trailers. High taxes will make people think twice about moving here.

    5. Ben:
      I completely disagree and think you are missing the point of Scott’s Op Ed and subsequent comments. I moved here and knowingly subjected myself to a $8000/year tax bill without the intent of ever having kids. I would gladly take on another couple thousand if it was the right move for the City. I think we should all participate in questioning the logic, assumptions, data, proposals, and so on until they feel all possibilities have been reviewed.

  22. As mentioned earlier, if this comes to fruition, the school millage rate will TRIPLE to 3 mills, and this does not include the operating costs.

    On a $400,000 home, just the debt repayment will add over $500 annually to our property tax bill which swells to $1500 with projected staffing costs.

    That is real money, and at a level that seriously impacts all taxpayers – including the 67% of Decatur population who do NOT have children in the school system. It is worthy of discussion of all kinds of options, not just the knee jerk, ‘We’ve got to build bigger and NOW!’

    1. The current school millage rate is .209. If it went to .3, which it won’t, that would not be a tripling of the rate. Please cite a source for this assertion that you’ve posted a couple of times.

  23. I’m finally starting to anticipate an election for a Decatur position where the candidates actually have drastic differences in their stances. For the past decade, it’s been a choice between super great candidates who basically believe in the same things (or who run unopposed). Soon, we might have a school board election between someone who wants to build more buildings against . . . Scott . . . or someone who backs Option Zero. And that would be interesting.

    1. Can you be more specific? Which positions are likely to be contested and who is likely to run? I’m all for contested elections because more information is shared and more dialogue occurs. And I know it’s kind of crummy for good candidates if they have to campaign against good opposition, but it can be the best for the community.

      This Option Zero stuff is new to me. I’m still recovering from “Save our neighborhood schools” and “5 K-5”. Have Option Zeroites developed ideas about what should happen to Westchester? To the 4/5 concept? To MYP IB which is grades 6-10? Is the ECLC concept still working, addressing disparities, and providing early IEPs and intervention to little ones that need it. Just wondering.

      1. I insist that Scott runs against TeeRuss for school board for whatever seat allows for that to happen.

  24. I think a lot of great points have been raised and I am happy to see an intelligent discussion of our options as a community. I have some points that I would like to add.

    Our school system is a victim of not only it’s own success but also of the abject failure of the surrounding Atlanta Public School and DeKalb County School systems. We have NO control over the adjacent school systems nor do we have a realistic hope of them righting their ships in the next few years. As a result of being the best local combination of price and quality, families are going to continue to move in at a high rate.

    The community here never had a chance to participate in any meaningful discourse on options other than the Master Plan presented by the CSD school board and their consultants. Finally, it seems we are talking now. I see the proposals of differing calendars and off campus learning as well as the suggestion we kick AT&T out. I think we need more of these type of suggestions.

    The DeVry campus and the Calloway Building have been mentioned as possible classroom space. A lot of residents hate the idea of sending kids all the way to the DeVry campus. The city seems to have other plans for the Calloway Building. Both of these ideas have positives and negatives but continuing to discuss them can help us figure out what type of trade-offs are acceptable.

    I grew up in Gwinnett when they were busting at the seams. For a couple of years we were even on a split-shift school schedule. At the High School and the Middle School they youngest grade would go in the afternoon while the upper grades went in the morning. Is this something we would consider for our kids? I think it is at least worth talking about.

    1. How did split schedules work out? What was the good, bad, and the ugly about them?

      1. As a kid I liked it. When I was a freshman we had the school to ourselves and it was a good way to get used to my new big scary school without the upper classes dumping on us. I was old enough to get myself ready for school while my parents worked and I enjoyed the independence.

        Looking back, I think the school days were shorter and that extracurricular activities suffered. I don’t know how the teachers and school administrators handled the long days. They may have had split shifts or longer hours.

        I do know that it made the best use of the class space that was available and that it seemed workable while the district struggled to catch up to enrollment. Not ideal but none of the proposals seem to be so far.

      2. Split shift public schools were the norm in Atlanta until 1916 because the tax-disdaining elite liked to spend as little as possible on the education of kids. The system was changed that year (not, alas, for black kids) after a parent revolt. Disturbing that it was revived in Gwinnett within living memory!

    2. Thank you for this info, I had never heard of that before. I’m sure someone here will come along and poo poo it with regulation information, or “this would never work for my family,” but I think it adds something to the conversation, just in terms of an interesting twist on the issue.

      I also like the idea of idea of completely online classes where appropriate. Come in and take your test, or have a weekly study group with the teacher, but do everything else at home. If used properly you could deal with some space issues, and make some teachers’ lives easier at the same time.

    3. So, if you have the late shift in a shift scheduled school, do you just have to give up extracurriculars that aren’t sponsored by the school? I know that necessity is necessity, but, especially here in Decatur, there are a lot of kids that have things going on outside of school by 5:00 or 5:30, I guess they just have to give it up? What are the hours of the split schedules typically? To get two 6 hour shifts in you’d have to run school from 7:00 A.M to 7:00 P.M. or later.

  25. One of Scott’s premises within his Zero Option idea is that if we don’t build large new schools, we will make our schools somewhat less attractive and reduce the demand for them. Some people who are choosing between a home in the suburbs or a teardown/rebuild in Oakhurst, will more likely choose the suburbs if they can get a big school with their big house there.
    I think there’s truth to that dynamic, but I think a lot of new demand for housing is coming from other areas intown. Families are moving to Decatur after learning that they can buy a new teardown here for less than their old historic homes in Morningside. When you factor in that Decatur’s schools are as good or better, it’s a move that makes a lot of sense.

    Another option to reduce the demand for Decatur’s homes and schools and level the economic playing field would be new zoning or ordinances to discourage teardowns. For example, Decatur could institute a demolition fee for housing which tears down an existing structure. It could use the fees to help fund new schools (or trailers). Ordinances like this would deter tear downs and might help some neighborhoods retain some of their existing housing stock, which will not only retain the character of neighborhoods physically, but also retain some of the diversity of incomes within the neighborhoods.

    This option wouldn’t stop growth entirely, but it might slow it down a bit. It also might attract a more frugal class of citizenry to the city who would be willing to live in a renovated bungalow rather than a new rebuild. I’m not sure this is something I want, but it’s something we might want to consider.

    1. BINGO!!!! You are so savvy… Savvy Shopper. I love that idea. It really makes me sad to see so many old houses being torn down in Oakhurst and replaced with huge new construction that often isn’t in keeping with the surroundings. I’m happy to have new residents, but it would be nice to be able to not completely throw out the old in order to ring in the new. People really don’t need 4000 square feet to raise a few kids anyway. Smaller houses encourage neighbors to get outside more which strengthens neighborhoods. I have several friends who live in big suburban subdivisions that often lament that they don’t even know who their next door neighbors are and that there are never any kids to play with outside.

      1. OK, but who is the decider for how much space each family needs? Maybe it’ not just about kids but in-laws that stay there, extended family, god-forbid- live in domestic help, etc… Keeping the aesthetics of the neighborhood are one issue, but telling people they are living too extravagantly sounds a little self-righteous. We all live pretty extravagantly compared to many, I’m quite sure.

        1. Each family decides how much space it needs, of course. But in the scenario Savvy describes, if you feel you need 4,000-5,000 sq ft, then you might not be able to find it here. Moving to Decatur with its charming little bungalows would mean choosing to live in a charming little bungalow with all that entails.

          I’m sitting here wondering where we’d be now if the energy, talent & resources that were devoted to trying to establish an Oakhurst historic district a few years ago had instead been directed towards an ordinance requiring a demolition fee. And I’m thinking it’s not too late.

        2. Daydreamer, I understand your concern and I don’t think I’d like an ordinance which prevented all teardowns. But the goal of a demolition fee wouldn’t be to prevent teardowns, but to balance out the values of Decatur with the other neighborhoods or cities with great schools.

          As Scott pointed out in his article, Decatur school enrollment is moving up because of the demand for our schools. Besides the quality of our schools, there are other reasons for the demand on our schools–quality schools intown, the Brick Store etc. But I think an important part of the demand for our schools is that they’re considered a good deal. Compare the price of a new 5 bedroom home in Morningside, and maybe John’s Creek, with Decatur, and I think Decatur comes out looking cheap. So a demolition fee, or other zoning rules, could be used to try to level out the economics and put Decatur new home prices on par with other sought after communities with good schools. It wouldn’t prevent tear downs, but it would make them more expensive.

          1. Wait, so my objection isn’t with a tear down fee, though I do think it would have to be pretty substantial to deter builders. Passing along a fee on a 30 year mortgage for $450k probably wouldn’t be enough to discourage motivated builders and their buyers.

            My issue was I just don’t think we should be telling people, who needs what. Each family has their own set of issues that determines the kind of house they buy, and if someone chooses bigger, I don’t think they should be judged for it. Do we want to start telling 2 person families they don’t “need” a second floor, or singletons that they don’t “need” a 3 bedroom house/condo. It sounded judgy, Or maybe I was just a tad defensive in hindsight.

            Having said all that, I really don’t think anyone needs 3 whole rooms dedicated solely to gift wrapping (hear that Candy Spelling!) so perhaps I can be a little judgy too. 🙂

            1. But it also about the character of the city that those of us who have been here for a long time want. We have a say, too. Builders are changing the character and you cannot expect people to like that. Of course you can tell people what they can do. It is called a building code and ours does not protect the character of our city. As STG says, if people want 5000 sq ft, then Decatur might not be for you. I don’t see why the very landscape of the city has to change so drastically to accommodate newcomers. Why can’t the newcomers adjust to life the way it is here, oldtimers shift forward a bit and everyone meet in the middle?

              Older residents are being told we have to give up many of the reasons we live here to accommodate new people or we are not being “welcoming’. Yes, there are plenty of people moving in who settle in like old shoes. But there is an element that does want to change things to suit THEM and they are getting more vocal. I don’t think I should have to compromise that much of my way of life- including the small schools I want for my young children- to accommodate unchecked growth. I believe in the compromise but I am not Obama and some things are NOT in the table.

              And these teardowns are the fault of the developers, plain and simple. Many, many people are buying these new houses who would rather have something more modest and original but well-rennovated, but they are not given a choice.

              1. I completely agree that not everyone lusts after a gigando house. What many people need, especially if they aren’t handy or good at hiring contractors, is a fully renovated home that no longer needs a lot of work. Or new and modest. Big homes with high ceilings will deteriorate and get cobwebs just like any other housing over time in this climate. Without a ton of homeowner upkeep, they won’t always look so new and shiny. I think some are stretching their budgets to buy new and gigando because they don’t see a lot of other move-in options besides condos and townhomes. And many condos and townhomes on the market now also need renovations.

                I’m not quite sure how a diverse housing stock with more modest options fits in with Option Zero, One, Two, or Three, or Twenty-two.five, but I’m all in favor of it.

    2. Ok, I’ve been reading too much DM. I had a dream last night I was looking at the tear down fee schedule. It actually varied by the anticipated new build square footage, and ranged from $1,500 to $3,500. Probably a lot less than Savvy was thinking to even out intown desirability pricing.
      If something like this does develop, I hope there might be other considerations for why someone might need a new build, other than stuffing lots of kids in it. There isn’t a lot of accessible housing stock, particularly master on main configuration. Decatur is such an accessible town, it would be a shame if only the very wealthy could take advantage of it.

    3. interesting idea, but the math doesn’t work. How many teardowns/ year in Decatur? 20 or 30 max I would guess. So, say we charge a whopping $20k as a teardown fee. That would yield $500k max/ year in revenue. Nowhere near $60M.

      And the untoward side effect would likely be that builders would “renovate” (meaning, keep a wall or 2) to avoid the fee.

      1. Ben, the purpose wouldn’t be to pay for the new schools (or trailers), but to help deal with the problem we’re facing, which is excess demand on our schools. As Scott pointed out, the CSD response to the problem is to build new and better schools, the byproduct of which is . . . more demand for our schools. A tear down fee, or other zoning or regulatory ideas, would help address the problem by getting at the cause of the problem–reducing the demand on the schools to begin with. It won’t solve the problem, but it’s just another we can, and probably should, try to address it.

        And as far as the math goes, I don’t think it would be fair to compare the revenue generated by a fee in one year versus the total cost of school additions, which are meant to be a long term solution of 10 to 20 years, I would assume.

  26. Savvy: My thoughts, somewhere in all these posts, were similar. As long as our schools are good compared to most of metro Atlanta, they will be attractive, even with trailers or creative Option Zero innovations. If the goal of Option Zero is to think creatively, use our CSD dollars most wisely, think outside the box instead of build out the box, great. We just shouldn’t assume that those ideas will address burgeoning enrollment. I can’t think of much that is sure to decrease enrollment other than crummy schools or limiting the housing stock that families want. And that would drive up home prices and cause higher taxes. On the other hand, building out our schools results in higher taxes. Can’t say that a recession worked either. That resulted in less state and federal funding which local taxes now have to make up. No matter what, there’s a price for Nirvana and I can’t figure out a way around that. Sure wish I could. And there’s something about economic and social behavior that seems to polarize communities into either booming and becoming elite and prohibitively expensive or declining and becoming cheaper but less attractive. Why isn’t moderation more economically and socially feasible?

    Maybe we need to launch a major social campaign to promote the suburbs and cause a stampede out to Sugar Hill. Then we keep really, really quiet, stay here, and don’t call attention to ourselves…..

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