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Should They Call It "Smoke and Mirrors" Elementary?

Smoke Rise Elementary School is the only charter school on the cell tower list. Did they accept their fate for a brand new building? Or are they being victimized by a game of smoke and mirrors?

This is a blog about Stone Mountain's , sort of. But, first a little background...

Ever since my husband and I heard about the ridiculous proposal being considered by the DeKalb County School Board last May, we have tried to warn others. We started with our neighborhood, branched out to our school community and then reached out to other schools near ours. 

We wrote to various blog websites, the local media and started petitions. We called and wrote to school board members, the PTA, our principal, the county and state government officials and friends from various school districts across the country. We used the name Get the Cell Out -Atlanta Chapter because we had heard about a group in California that had a similar bad encounter with T-mobile several years before our school board decided they were a reputable vendor to lock in for the next several decades (while they agree to take all the bonus money up front leaving the next couple of generations to deal with the downfall of the already outdated technology and the expense of trying to get out of the contract).

We even had residents contact us long after the decision was already made because they saw a video I put on YouTube that showed the large number of cell towers we already have in DeKalb County all around us.

We've worked together with several groups throughout all parts of the county to bring awareness to this issue. We've asked all the right questions about how something like this can happen without anyone standing up for the rights of the citizens. We just haven't received any good answers, so we have worked our way along the chain of command. And many people have joined in our efforts along the way.

The county commissioners heard the many, many complaints on this issue and jointly penned a letter to CEO Burrell Ellis on March 27. The letter explains the zoning ordinance already in place that would normally stop cell towers (aka telecommunications towers) from being built in residential neighborhoods or with building in their "fall zone." They raised their concerns with the CEO that the BOE or T-mobile may try to apply for an Administrative Permit to avoid the proper review normally necessary and to avoid the public notification requirements of a Special Land Use permit.

School Board Chairman Dr. Eugene Walker was quoted in  as stating that the commissioners were overstepping their authority by writing the letter. Overstepping? Really? We're talking about the people who were elected into office for the precise purpose of enforcing our county codes and building regulations. These are the folks who are trained for this purpose and Dr. Walker thinks it is out of line for them to want to do their jobs?

Dr. Walker must have his degree in "Spin" because the Supreme Court of Georgia doesn't agree with his interpretation the school exemption laws. The court ruled that  the exemption is only permitted when the property is used for governmental or public purposes, not for a proprietary purpose (money generating), which clearly that is the ONLY reason T-mobile / ATT is interested in the deal at all.

So, what's going on with Smoke Rise Elementary?

That's what we have been wondering because they have mostly kept quiet during all the cell tower discussions. Does that mean they are in favor? Or does it mean they still don't know about what's coming? Or does it mean that someone in charge of their charter had to make a deal with the devil and can't figure a way out of it now.

I have driven through the Smoke Rise community and handed out a few flyers, but a lot of the homes are gated and I thought I might be mistaken for a door to door solicitor. But, I can't help wondering ... does anyone at Smoke Rise know about the cell tower? Do they care?

The school is in a nice neighborhood that might not want to see property values go down, but perhaps they believe the new school will make their value go up. What new school? Oh, that's right, you might not know if you didn't vote this past November when SPLOST IV was the only item on the ballot. 

Taxpayers agreed, likely without realizing it, to demolish a perfectly good, solid, well-built historic school with character and charm instead simply refurbishing it and saving us all the expense of higher taxes. 

It will be torn down and a new one will go up right on top of the same spot and will house the exact same number of students: 600. We can only assume it will follow the trend of our other new schools, which means it will be replaced with a poorly constructed, inferior quality, overpriced cookie cutter version of an elementary school that will likely start to leak from the roof, grow mold and be closed down for good in a few short years. 

Amid the construction chaos, kids will still be expected to attend school. They blow up half of the school and rebuild it while shoving everyone into the other half. When the first half is done, they shove everyone over there and repeat the process. And, when no one is paying attention, a cell tower will also go up, radiating the kids, teachers and surrounding community. Refer to the photos attached to this story to see exactly where the tower will go and how many are already nearby.

The most at risk are the people who live within a quarter mile of the tower as they have no way to escape the damage of being under constant background radiation that has been linked to damage to biological tissues and DNA and may even lead to incrased chances of certain forms of cancer. And, of course, the children stand the risk of constant headaches, dizzy spells, trouble sleeping, lack of concentration, poor memory, brain fog and hyperactivity which are commonly reported after a school gets a tower or sets up wi-fi.

The tower will bring contractors who have to constantly check the tower and make repairs at all hours of the day and night. It will invite copper thieves into the community and give them a handy place to park and hide out, too. School Board Member Paul Womack told a group of parents at a Briarlake meeting last September that this whole mess was intended to solve a communications problem over at Lakeside High School, which is the only school yet to have a signed agreement.

So, what do you think?

Is the Smoke Rise community doing the right thing by keeping quiet and not participating in the protest against the cell towers? Or, perhaps, are the residents still largely unaware of what's to come?  How will they react when they find out about it?  How will they react if they find out we all knew and didn't tell them about it? 

Do you know anyone with a child at this charter elementary school? Do you know anyone who lives near it? Have you warned them about the T-mobile towers and the bad deal the school board has made to lease the property paid for by our tax dollars to a commercial enterprise seeking to make even more money off us and avoid their share of taxes? 

Do they know they will get a chance to voice their opinion about cell towers (called telecommunications towers by those who don't want you to realize what they are talking about) on the July 31 ballot?  

Don't you think you should tell them? Wouldn't you want someone to warn you if it were your child or your neighborhood? Let's work together for the sake of our entire county. We need to rise above political rivalry or whatever else might be getting in our way. There is still time to put a stop to them and we won't get another opportunity to even try for the next 30 years. 

If you would like to learn more, please visit: www.GETtheCELLoutATL.org

And please email CEO Burrell Ellis to lend your support for the county commissioners and their request to do their jobs. And, please sign the countywide petition at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/GTCO-ATL.

Register to Vote; Learn What's on the Ballot and Prepare to Vote on July 31!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Smoke Rise Mom April 28, 2012 at 03:02 PM
To be honest, you will have much better luck going to the Smoke Rise Community Association. They are much more concerned with the cell tower than Smoke Rise Charter School. The school does not have very many students left that actually reside in Smoke Rise and those that do still attend are so busy dealing with serious school problems affecting their children today that they aren't paying attention to the cell tower issue that will affect students and community members tomorrow. I do know that the SRCA is worried about the tower, but hasn't known how to mobilize the community since it seems like a "school" issue from the outside. As a member of that board, I will let them know about the resources listed here and will make sure they get the word out in this community about the July 31 vote. Thank you very much for the helpful information!
Cheryl Miller April 29, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Thank you for the feedback. We were not aware of that association. If the board is interested in having a guest speaker or if they have any questions, just send us an email at sayno2celltowers@yahoo.com. You can also find information on our blog / website at www.GETtheCELLoutATL.org. For anyone just learning about the subject, it is best to scroll to the bottom of the blog and work your way up to the current date, at least reading the headlines, to get a better understanding of the timeline of events.
Parenting in Dekalb County April 29, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Smoke Rise Charter has made some very deliberate moves to detach themselves from the Smoke Rise Community in general. The Charter Council has been very clear that community members without children enrolled are not welcome at the school except with very limited exceptions. Until recently, all Charter Council meetings were closed meetings (violation of Open Meetings Act.) Even now if a community member is interested in attending a Charter Council meeting they must view it by closed circuit TV from a computer lab. The school administration and the Charter Council is very aware of the cell phone tower issue and is very invested in making sure it is built. They desire the money more then they worry about the hazards to the children or property values. The school is holding its final public 2011-2012 PTA meeting on May 3rd. This meeting is for election of PTA board members and the community is invited. I am not sure if it is to late to get this issue on the agenda but as a parent, PTA member, and community member I would love to hear a guest speaker on the topic.
Cheryl Miller April 29, 2012 at 09:48 PM
If anyone knows who is in charge of the memberhip swimming pool next door to Smoke Rise, they should be alerted as well. RF radiation is absorbed readily by water, so their club might suffer a financial loss if people drop out once they learn that it might not be very safe to be swimming or sunbathing so close to a source of microwave radiation.
Cheryl Miller April 29, 2012 at 11:00 PM
I wonder how the Charter Council will feel when they learn they have been duped. There is absolutely no money coming to them either directly, or indirectly, according to the lease agreement. You can view it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/82183869/Cell-Tower-Lease-Smoke-Rise-Elementary. We received a copy after several Open Records Requests. The other schools have learned that their PTAs, Booster Clubs or Charter Councils, etc. will be given an opportunity to "direct the funds" of $25K in physcial improvements to the school. Sounds like SPLOST money to me - probably money they were already scheduled to receive regardless of whether or not they agreed to take on the liability and risk associated with a massive cell tower. And, everyone should be upset with anyone at a school who is misrepresenting the community as being in favor of something they actually know little or nothing about. It's a state law that matters of controversy or community concern must be addressed in an Open Forum where the feedback can be carefully considered. That clearly didn't happen anywhe and our entire county will suffer lower property values and the ongoing chances of getting towers at all of our schools if a precedent is set. It's a decision that should not be taken lightly and should not be left in the hand of a limited, self-appointed few. T-mobile has a very predictable script and it's a game they've played out all over the U.S. They aren't fooling anyone here.

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