DeKalb Schools: We invest in students, not pet projects

A rendering of the corporate campus portion of the proposed Assembly development in Doraville. The Integral Group and partners propose converting the former General Motors plant in Doraville into a $1.6 billion mixed-use development.

The refusal of the DeKalb County School District to participate in a tax allocation district proposal to finance redevelopment of the GM site in Doraville has provoked criticism of Superintendent Steve Green and the school board for blocking progress and job growth. That criticism has intensified as the deadline for the TAD grows near.

In an essay today, Green responds to that criticism.

First some background from the AJC on the TAD, which has become a controversy in the county:

Atlanta-based Integral Group, Doraville leaders and other supporters are ratcheting up pressure on the DeKalb County school board to take part in an infrastructure program, called a tax allocation district, to help fund critical road, sewer and park projects on the site.

Doraville and the DeKalb county commission have pledged expected future tax dollars to support public improvements through a TAD. But the school board, which controls a majority of the tax pie, has thus far declined a request for a formal presentation by the developers and the city, according to project supporters. Superintendent Steve Green has said the district isn’t in the business of funding private projects, and a majority of the school board opposes the TAD.

The GM site, just northwest of the I-285/I-85 interchange, is prominent but also has challenges. Doraville’s development hasn’t kept pace with other major nodes along I-285 such as Dun-woody, Sandy Springs and Cumberland in Cobb County. The plant closure wiped out thousands of jobs and dented Doraville’s tax base.

The AJC reported last week hopes are dwindling for “financial support from the DeKalb school system to help rejuvenate the abandoned Doraville General Motors site, developers could seek other avenues to tap tax money for the project. If DeKalb school leaders don’t change course by June, developers have warned that business realities will force them to move on with scaled-down plans. Instead of a mini-city with office towers, mixed-use housing and parks, the area could be used for strip retail stores, car dealerships and suburban housing.”

Here is Green’s essay:

By Steve Green

Parents and other welcome guests to early education classrooms in DeKalb County find an old friend on bookshelves – the classic children’s story, “The Little Engine That Could.”

You know the tale. A determined little steam engine faces the task of pulling a long train of cars over a high mountain. Bigger engines turn down the job, believing it too difficult. Undaunted, the little engine chugs to the summit with its load, motivated by a phrase that perfectly captures a can-do attitude: I-Think-I-Can, I-Think-I-Can.

We think of the DeKalb County School District as the same kind of engine … for education, of course but also, importantly, for our regional economy.

That’s right. Our school district is an educational engine, carrying 102,000 kids every year toward their peak potential in careers and accomplishments. But we’re also a huge contributor to the economic health of DeKalb County and surrounding areas.

Let’s be clear. First and foremost, our school district offers children a safe, stable setting for their schoolwork and social life … and we offer parents and families the assurance that every child will be respected and taught in a healthy, holistic environment.

But we also create the economy of tomorrow in our classrooms. We prepare students for college and careers, so they become future job-creators, wage-earners, tax-payers, and responsible citizens.

To make this happen, we employ 15,407 worthy employees – 6,543 are our talented and dedicated teachers. This makes the district the second largest employer in the county right behind the Emory University complex.  Most of the $634 million these good people make annually in competitive salaries goes straight back into our Atlanta-area economy … not into the coffers of corporations in other states or into the pockets of realty speculators.

The fact is that our little economic engine turns out not to be so little after all. Since 2013, the school district has spent $128,322,288 in E-SPLOST monies with local businesses in the metro Atlanta area. If we include a multiplier effect for local sub-contractors and other services, we’ve infused between $210 million and $255 million into the local economy in the last three years.

The quality of our schools plays an economic role, too, attracting new residents and businesses.

When Daimler Benz North America recently announced the relocation of its headquarters to the area, it partly based the decision on the quality of local education. And Ray Gilley, president of the Decide DeKalb Development Authority, recently said DeKalb County is entering a period where we will “continue seeing growth.” One reason Gilley cited? Our “very much improving school district” and a large, quality workforce (thank you, DeKalb schools).

The sparks thrown off by the school district’s economic engine glow all around us. Some examples may surprise – we deliver economic value, without pavement or pollution, in unexpected, non-traditional ways:

For starters, we’ve increased the district high school graduation rate by 11 percent, preparing more students for careers and college. These ‘can-do’ young people can be the developers and designers of DeKalb’s economic future.

With DeKalb Workforce Development, part of DeKalb County Government, we’ve sponsored workshops for unemployed or underemployed parents. The job application training gave scores of school parents professional tips on fully engaging with our local economy through interview preparation, appropriate dress, and resume writing.

We’ll sponsor a job fair Thursday for parents, partnering with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, DeKalb Workforce Development, and DeKalb Perimeter College. We’ve already conducted a career fair at Towers High School. (Some 250 students were hired for summer jobs.)

We’re sponsoring an innovative dual-degree program at DeKalb Early College Academy. Students graduate with a high school degree and a two-year associate degree, putting them two years ahead when they enter college. It’s a clear win-win. Parents and students avoid two years of skyrocketing college costs. The economy of DeKalb and local communities gets capable, educated graduates that may not otherwise have been able to afford college.

We expanded Advanced Placement classes to get students into colleges free of remediation delays. Finally, with our eyes on the globe, we’ve expanded our international baccalaureate classes to prepare students to work anywhere … especially in an increasingly international Atlanta area.

Few question the fact that education drives economic development. The skills and knowledge of the work force have a huge influence on local job and wage growth. Founding father Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

It’s why we ask businesses and the state government to be ultra-involved in the support of our school district … instead of at odds with it. Every business in DeKalb, new or old, has an enlightened self-interest in supporting schools … and putting this long-term growth engine ahead of single projects that compromise them.

Schools ultimately exist to support the prosperity of every business and every person who does business … not just a few people with one pet project. Schools should be an investment in skills and scholars, not bright lights.

Like the Little Engine That Could, the DeKalb County School District thinks we can, with the right community support, do more in the long haul for the economy of our region than other resource.

 

Reader Comments 0

39 comments
Chad Peterson
Chad Peterson

If the developers can't generate ROI on property with access to mass transportation and proximity to major interstates, then they should sell and let someone who can develop it. How much subsidies do we have to provide?

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

Well said Superintendent Green! There is no more important task in our society that to educate our children, and tax dollars for public education in Georgia have been taken away for a decade or more while the challenges of a rapidly diversifying student body continue to grow. As a retired science teacher I can tell you that most of us teachers spend our own dollars to provide supplies and sometimes basic needs for our students. School taxes should never be used to prop up the faltering revenues of some private enterprise scheme; never, never, ever!!!

Ronald Stancil
Ronald Stancil

Then the property will never be developed. No one is going to invest time and money if there is not an assured ROE. Dekalb has to have skin in the game.

Starik
Starik

@Ronald Stancil Why? Does investment include risk? Should government at any level insure the risk?

Shelby
Shelby

It is a shame that there seems to be a misunderstanding of Tax Allocation Districts.  Right now this site hasn't generated revenue for many years and has been an eyesore.  The TAD would allow for infrastructure improvements for the site to be built in a way that would be meaningful for Doraville, DeKalb and the region.  It would increase the property value of neighboring businesses and homes and therefore the taxes surrounding (outside of) the project.  The only taxes that would be gathered for the purpose of the TAD are the ones in the defined area of the project.  The School Board is gloriously cutting off its nose to spite its face.  This hurts the schools.  :  A tax-allocation district (TAD), also known as tax increment financing, is a defined area where real estate property tax monies gathered above a certain threshold for a certain period of time (typically 25 years) to be used a specified improvement.

Starik
Starik

@Shelby Doraville is fine. A city of 10,000 with a couple of miles of interstate to generate revenue will do well.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

A pat on the back for Green and the BOE for sticking to their guns on this issue.  What makes THIS project any more deserving than the thousands of small business owners who operate their business while complying with an ever increasing tax burden - several of which would be required to compete against this project and their government subsidies?  In a few years, if Dekalb BOE is forced to raise their millage rate, these same businesses will effectively be subsidizing their competition even more.

When governments get involved, it gets convoluted very quickly.

I've been on the other side of this equation - on the business side when management starts chasing some of these government incentives.  I've witnessed management making bad decisions in an effort "let the government pay for it" and I've been in the room when we've had to figure out how to straighten the mess out.

The bottom line is that the GM property is prime metropolitan real estate.  It will be developed at some point.  When it does, Dekalb schools will be in a position to receive the proper amount of tax revenue that it is entitled to.  Why should they forfeit those future tax revenues for this pie in the sky project?

Greg Fiorella
Greg Fiorella

Dekalb schools suck, for the most part. It's a little bizarre that they get on a high horse for this issue.

Astropig
Astropig

"Dekalb schools suck, for the most part."


How will giving away future tax revenues to for- profit crony socialist projects make them any better?

Threeperros
Threeperros

Dr. Green, stand strong.  You are on the right track and you have our support on this.  It is unbelievable that one BOE member has joined the TAD side to undermine Dr. Green.  This exactly one of the reasons that previous BOE was removed--going in directions that did NOT directly benefit the schools, teachers, students and the district.  If I remember correctly, one of the county commissioners, also pushing the TAD, was on that BOE.



FactsOnlyPlease
FactsOnlyPlease

The little engine that could is an interesting editorial essay touting statistics and other PR worthy news; however it fails to answer the fundamental question: Why will the DeKalb County School Board (DCSB) not listen and discuss a formal presentation on an important topic?

As an entity tasked with managing a large percentage of local tax dollars the DCSB is and should be contributor to the local economy. In fact, one could argue because of public funding, they are even more of a contributor than other large employers because they are publicly funded and provide the educational foundation of a community. As such they should be obligated to listen, understand and review business opportunities – especially those with so much at stake - presented to them in an open public forum.

As previously stated by one or more members of the DCSB administration, their role and business is education not economic development, yet they agree (previous public statements) economic development is closely linked to education. If it is so critical, why have neither Superintendent Green, Melvin Johnson nor any other member of the administration not supporting of the TAD been able to accurately nor effectively articulate why they won’t learn more in a public forum. Regardless of a final vote supporting or not supporting the Assembly TAD; dismissing such a large initiative without public input is a failure of their duty.

If only the DeKalb County School System offered some basic civics, economics or debate classes so a few members of the administration could be reminded of their role, obligation and ability to present an effective argument.

Astropig
Astropig

@FactsOnlyPlease


They don't owe this guy a damn thing.They have a legal right to levy these taxes and spend them on education-not economic development.


You're the one that needs some economics training.Any project that doesn't make business sense without taking tax money that should go to schools is not a viable project.There's no gray area here-this money would develop nothing.It would simply make a contribution to the Crony Socialists Relief Fund and wind up in the pockets of the developers.They should be ashamed of themselves for even proposing this,much less turning paid shills like yourself loose on forums like these.You must not have any moral bearings at all to actually advocate shortchainging schoolchildren  so that a few wealthy socialists can become a little more wealthy.


I would caution the school board and Dr. Green to NOT let these people have any kind of public hearing.They will hire more amoral biped swine like this guy to pack the venue and "demand" that you give up this money for this project.You can be certain that they will hire PR firms to hype any such meeting as their proof that the public is demanding this.You can be sure that the TV stations will be there with cameras rolling when these phony-baloney paid shills pack the house.


Stonewall these guys.They aren't real businessmen.They're just good at sucking money out of the public coffers.

Jason Laster
Jason Laster

Cause they misappropriated all of the money in the sinking funds and escrow accounts. Guess they thought it was petty cash. Just say you can't because you don't have it.

C.e. Freeman
C.e. Freeman

School Board money has no business in the plans of a for profit enterprise. Build a magnet technical high school and maybe we can talk. We should invest in schools and students with school money. Scale your project back.

Jason Laster
Jason Laster

It's called revenue bonds and actually any municipal entity has the ability to issue one at a considerable tax discount for the issuer and recipients.

Monique Lewis Joiner
Monique Lewis Joiner

Thank you Superintendent Green, the students and teachers of Dekalb needs state of the art buildings with working AC and heat!

Tom Green
Tom Green

Great choice! A tax break for corporations means the rest of us have to pick up the tab for the extra infrastructure and student population.

matt321
matt321

This article lacks any discussion at all of the TAD, or why the school district does not support it.  Like the decision to create new six figure roles for his buddies (appointed on a non-competitive 'interim' basis), I give this effort an F.  Please next time write on the appointed subject. 

redweather
redweather

@matt321 Hate to tell you, but you have failed miserably at reading.  The column is all about what the school system supports. I give your response an F-.

Astropig
Astropig

I would simply say to Dr. Green and the school board that the public is behind you on your position here.The taxpayers understand these things better than Davenport Throttlebottom IV and his band of crony socialists seem to think.If you cave to this guy,you better just install a revolving door on the BOE building for all of the other little wheeler-dealers out there in DeKalb because I can assure you,they'll be there in a Doraville minute if they think that they can get the same deal.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig


I can, in good conscience, "like" your post, above, Astropig, with one exception.  I would have deleted your phrase, ". . .and his band of crony socialists seem to think. . . ."


That phrase is simply name-calling.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Excellent rebuttal, Dr. Green.  Keep the faith.  You are on the right track and you are following the North Star of what public education should be about. Thank you for your insight and for your courage.

Heather Walther Dever
Heather Walther Dever

They don't invest in students though. They invest in administration as always. Just an example: If they were invested in the children, my children and others wouldn't be paying $94 for each AP exam after the first test. Other school systems don't make the parents pay. What if your child is taking 4 AP courses, but can't afford to pay almost $300 to take the final exams? Maybe they won't take the class because they can't afford to. Whose loss is that?? The Cross Key Cluster schools would not have been ignored, neglected, and gerrymandered if they "cared" about educating the children. They would have full time paraprofessionals in all classes where children struggle with reading and other subjects and are expected to pass yet another test for promotion. All they have are excuses, not reasons and certainly no real solutions. How about the $150,000 that was spent on an administrative search to end up hiring several people that Dr. Green had previously worked with?!! Hmmmm. More administration, super, just what they needed. The SB is sure keen on keeping their millage rate ridiculously high, taking our valuable property tax dollars but won't invest in its own communities, when it won't cost them any money outright and they lose nothing if the development should fail. People should be outraged at the amount they pay in property taxes to the schools and what we get in return. I listened to the interview with the SB Chairman, the one where he hemmed and hawed his way though. He had no idea of real numbers just guesses, and uneducated ones for that matter. He, and as far as I'm concerned most of the SB have no idea what the TAD can do for the schools, ALL the schools, as well as DeKalb's economic development as a whole. This is not a North vs. South DeKalb issue that some would like to turn it into, this is about the children and getting more money into the schools and this development will benefit All schools of DeKalb. The tax dollars they will get are not required to be spent in one area of the county. The SB wonders why some cities would like to create their own school systems, however the reasons are obvious and endless. That is truly what they are worried about, losing those property taxes. That was mentioned to me in a response to the letters I wrote to the SB in support for the TAD. DeKalb as a whole has not kept up with the other counties as far as economic development. My guess is those major corporations watch the news and continue to see the corruption we all see in DeKalb, from the CEO down. The more things change the more they stay the same, unfortunately to the detriment of our children, schools, and communities. Sorry about the length of the comment, I am beyond frustrated by the SB and their refusal to meet with and listen to the Developers of the Assembly Project. Do they need to be reminded they actually work for the taxpayers and out of respect to their community they should at the VERY least meet and listen to their proposal. The developers have chosen to invest in DeKalb, over $60 million so far, show them some respect.

bu22
bu22

But they don't work for the developers.  Maybe the county commissioners are on their payroll.  This deal reeks as yet another example of the corruption you decry.

Heather Walther Dever
Heather Walther Dever

They don't invest in students though. They invest in administration as always. Just an example: If they were invested in the children, my children and others wouldn't be paying $94 for each AP exam after the first test. Other school systems don't make the parents pay. What if your child is taking 4 AP courses, but can't afford to pay almost $300 to take the final exams? Maybe they won't take the class because they can't afford to. Whose loss is that?? The Cross Key Cluster schools would not have been ignored, neglected, and gerrymandered if they "cared" about educating the children. They would have full time paraprofessionals in all classes where children struggle with reading and other subjects and are expected to pass yet another test for promotion. All they have are excuses, not reasons and certainly no real solutions. How about the $150,000 that was spent on an administrative search to end up hiring several people that Dr. Green had previously worked with?!! Hmmmm. More administration, super, just what they needed. The SB is sure keen on keeping their millage rate ridiculously high, taking our valuable property tax dollars but won't invest in its own communities, when it won't cost them any money outright and they lose nothing if the development should fail. People should be outraged at the amount they pay in property taxes to the schools and what we get in return. I listened to the interview with the SB Chairman, the one where he hemmed and hawed his way though. He had no idea of real numbers just guesses, and uneducated ones for that matter. He, and as far as I'm concerned most of the SB have no idea what the TAD can do for the schools, ALL the schools, as well as DeKalb's economic development as a whole. This is not a North vs. South DeKalb issue that some would like to turn it into, this is about the children and getting more money into the schools and this development will benefit All schools of DeKalb. The tax dollars they will get are not required to be spent in one area of the county. The SB wonders why some cities would like to create their own school systems, however the reasons are obvious and endless. That is truly what they are worried about, losing those property taxes. That was mentioned to me in a response to the letters I wrote to the SB in support for the TAD. DeKalb as a whole has not kept up with the other counties as far as economic development. My guess is those major corporations watch the news and continue to see the corruption we all see in DeKalb, from the CEO down. The more things change the more they stay the same, unfortunately to the detriment of our children, schools, and communities. Sorry about the length of the comment, I am beyond frustrated by the SB and their refusal to meet with and listen to the Developers of the Assembly Project. Do they need to be reminded they actually work for the taxpayers and out of respect to their community they should at the VERY least meet and listen to their proposal. The developers have chosen to invest in DeKalb, over $60 million so far, show them some respect.

jerryeads
jerryeads

I indeed don't have any skin in this game, living in Gwinnett, but it REALLY ticks me off that these profit-mongering crooks are so baldly trying to bully a school system into sacrificing kids' education to line their pockets. These twits will figure another way to get rich off the GM site and do it without even breathing hard. YES it's a good idea to develop the site. They don't need to shaft the county's kids to do it.

But while you're at it, Steve, take those bux and fix the system. If Cat's right (HI CAT!), certainly sounds like you might have a smidgen of overhead you could trim and put those bux into the classroom.

Julie Horowitz
Julie Horowitz

Dekalb County School District, formerly the envy of the state, is a mess as evidenced by so many failing schools. By Superintendent Green's own reckoning 58% of school district employees are NOT teachers. How much of that is central office administration? Chairman Johnson wants our tax dollars to "go to student learning." That would be a nice change rather than padding the administration org charts and lining the consultants pockets. Moreover, we taxpayers are expected to approve an E-SPLOST later this month, but no one can/will say what it will fund specifically.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Schools should not be in the business of land development.  Remember, when it comes to tax breaks and corporate welfare, all the companies who we bribe to come here can be bribed to move somewhere else.  Once business starts accepting bids for tax breaks, it never ever ends.  The tax breaks will have to continue long after any redevelopment takes place to keep the businesses there.  I support Superintendent Green and his stance against the development.  If DeKalb's leaders want it so bad, maybe they should invest their, not the taxpayers, money. 

Astropig
Astropig

@Looking4truth


"If DeKalb's leaders want it so bad, maybe they should invest their, not the taxpayers, money. "


Or alternatively,the BOE should demand a proportional piece of the equity of such a sure-fire,can't lose project.If their contribution is 10%,they should demand 10% of the profits on the back end.I seriously doubt that Throttlebottom and the boys at the country club will agree to a deal like that.They want to keep that money for themselves.


I hope that the BOE realizes just how strong their position is here.They don't have to give these crony socialists the time of day.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I strongly agree with Mr. Green.  Schools are not directly economic development engines.  Let them concentrate on teaching!  That is their role in economic development.  The developers should be supporting the schools, not the other way around!


So saying, having less than 50% of the employees of the school system as teachers is absolutely ridiculous!  Use the money for TEACHING and LEARNING, and not for "support" and "technology" and "administration!"  Cut the "others" in half, then cut again by 30%, and tell everyone to work harder, like teachers must do!  Then, do a line by line, position by position examination of the "necessity" of each position not occupied by a teacher, and be sure teachers are being used to their upmost.  No "special assignments" for the wives of coaches, or the daughters and sons of administrators!  Cut out every sign of hiring family and friends!

Niobe
Niobe

Capturing voters' attention would be easier if the DeKalb County School District were more in the business of educating children rather than protecting the education establishment.

When it comes to education reform, DeKalb County School District is widely perceived as the Little Engine That Won't.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Great accomplishments, esp the job fair for parents. But wouldn't this development provide more jobs for those parents to fill in addition to students to fill and gain experience in internships???

" We prepare students for college and careers, so they become future job-creators, wage-earners, tax-payers, and responsible citizens."

Why not start earlier? Jobs keep kids off the street which DeKalb has had a problem with in the past.

My County Commissioner recently had a newsletter stating how the school board, esp Mr Green , did not understand the TAD. Like your students, get educated. It is not hard. You just have to listen and comprehend. Ask questions also. Their are no dumb questions....unless you have to ask it multiple times. 


Oh and Benz is building in Fulton County. Why do you think they chose Fulton Co?

bu22
bu22

@RoadScholar Your commissioner was probably being deliberately misleading.  Green understands the TAD.  It will speed up development, but its primarily an effort to put more money in the developer's pocket.  The pressure they put on the school board is deeply offensive.  The school board is standing up to them.  Something to actually be proud about the DeKalb County School Board.

Starik
Starik

@xxxzzz @RoadScholar "Something to actually be proud about the DeKalb County School Board."  Yes, finally. DeKalb may have a competent Superintendent.  Now if he can fix the school system...