The cost of growth

City Schools of Decatur looks to citizens for bond approval


Construction crews have relocated the high school’s chiller tower and begun replacing poor top soil to better prepare the back lot for foundation work.

Luke Chandler and Ben Greco

Picture Decatur High School with dozens of trailers and over 1,500 students. This congested scene could become reality in only a few short years.

City Schools of Decatur is asking taxpayers in Decatur to approve a $75 million tax referendum in order to perform numerous renovations and expansions to district facilities. If the tax referendum is not approved, CSD will not have the funds necessary to execute these plans.

Assuming the tax bond is voted up, all of the money would go to CSD. Approximately a third of the funds would go towards additions to Decatur High School (DHS) ($22 million) , including additional classrooms, a new media center and a full renovation of the main building. More outdoor learning space, a bus drop off area, and more parking are also included in the master plan.

$15.4 million would go towards further renovations at Renfroe Middle School, (RMS) featuring more classrooms, a media center and a renovation of the main building with more parking. $10 million would go toward purchasing land for new schools, $15 million to construct a new elementary school, $3 million to portable classrooms, $2.6 million for bond issuing costs and contingency money and $7 million for turning College Heights into an elementary school or relocating it.

A downside to many in Decatur is increased taxes. If approved, the bond would increase property taxes by almost 7 percent. For a house worth $700,000, homeowners would pay an additional $942.75 a year, which is enough to turn some people against approval.

Polly Anderson, 70, has lived in Decatur for three years but grew up in the Atlanta area. She believes that the renovation funds should come from sales taxes.

“The economy is doing better. People are spending more money in Decatur,” she said. “With more people being able to spend more money in Decatur, more tax money will be collected.”

She is also skeptical of how efficient Decatur’s tax collection is.

“Decatur has expanded enough to where it should be bringing in more taxes,” she said.

Mary Huber is also opposed to the tax. A Decatur resident since 1992, she currently has two grandchildren in CSD.

Although she is concerned with the overcrowding issue in CSD schools, she is unsure about the accuracy of the Decatur growth projections.

“I’m not at all convinced by the school board’s planning,” she said.

She later cited her main reasons for her disbelief as two “false assumptions.”

“These projections are based upon the false assumption that 65 percent of households will have school-aged children,” she said.

The second false assumption, she said, is that “when large houses replace small houses, families with more children will live in the larger house, but this is not the case.”

Other Decatur residents see the tax as a small price to pay for a better school system.

Monica Walker, Decatur resident and mother of two children, is willing to pay the extra taxes. One of her children graduated from Decatur High School in 2015. Her other child is currently a junior at DHS.

She believes the recent increase of families moving to Decatur is partially due to the quality of the public schools.

“There’s a good reason why everyone loves Decatur,” Walker said. “It’s because of the schools, teachers, parks, churches, people, shops, pools and rec centers.”

Another supporter of the bond is junior Eric Broner.

He believes Decatur High is becoming increasingly crowded, and the city needs to do something about it.

“The DHS expansion is a necessary expense,” Broner said.

Broner proposed a possible exemption to the tax bond.

“I do think that it would be fair to excuse those on a fixed income, such as seniors, from paying the tax,” he said.

CSD recently contracted a firm to analyze growth data and come up with a projection for the number of students that will be enrolled in 2020.

The proposed renovations would cover 95 percent of the projected capacity for 2020 in DHS, 93 percent for RMS, 85 percent for the 4/5 academy and 97 percent grades K-3.

The bond referendum vote is set for Nov. 3, and any registered voter in the city of Decatur is eligible to vote.


Photo by Ben Greco