The non-binding advisory referendum won’t change the reality for thousands of children who will be attending the nine schools already leased to T-Mobile, but it could signal community sentiment to board members.
Residents can vote yes or no to the question: “Should the local or independent school system of DeKalb County or a charter school in DeKalb County place or operate a telecommunications tower on any elementary, middle, or high school property?”
Cheryl Miller, a former Brockett Elementary parent and member of GETtheCELLoutATL.org, and said the referendum’s wording is so vague and misleading she fears voters won’t know its about the same cell phone towers they have been opposing.
“We are afraid the general public will not understand that the cell towers we have been so opposed to for so long are actually the same thing as the ‘telecommunications towers’ they are being asked about on the ballot,” she said.“The wording sounds like the tower will be ‘placed or operated’ by the school system for some sort of educational purpose, which is not correct. The towers have nothing to do with education, and are not needed for wireless inside the school house.”
Miller said parents opposed to the cell towers at schools will want to make sure everyone knows to vote “no” to the question.
The referendum was created by House Bill 1299, sponsored by state Reps. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain), Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur) and other DeKalb legislators.
Drenner, a six-term representative and a radiation physicist, embraced the referendum after House Bill 1197 which she sponsored to ban towers from other school grounds failed.
State legislators have been seeking ways to prevent the location of more cell towers on DeKalb Schools property after a July 12, 2011, vote by the DeKalb School Board to allow T-Mobile to locate 150-foot high towers on nine school properties for up to 30 years. Most of those schools are in south DeKalb County.
The schools are Flat Rock and Princeton elementary and MLK Jr. High in Lithonia; Briarlake and Narvie J. Harris elementary in Decatur; Smoke Rise Elementary in Stone Mountain; Jolly Elementary in Clarkston; and Lakeside High and Margaret Harris Comprehensive School in Atlanta.
School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson signed the 30-year leases with T-Mobile on Dec. 8. Over the life of the lease, T-Mobile will pay the school district just over $2.3 million in rent.
District spokesman Walter Woods said this week that the construction of the first cell tower is expected to begin in August.
“All sites are in some phase of design,” he said.
Drenner, a six-term representative and a radiation physicist, said she thinks the cell towers are a short, money grab by the school board.
“We’re trading short term money for long term health reasons,” she said.
Drenner has been fighting cell towers on school property because of possible health effects associated with radio frequency radiation and magnetic field.
She said that there are no longitudinal health study on the effects of cell towers on students,.
“I would ask parents do you want your child to be a case study,” she said.
Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), whose bill requiring state and local governments to hold public hearings before leasing public property to private organizations for non-governmental and commercial reasons failed, said if the nonbinding refereundum succeeds, it will be valuable.
“It will put pressure on the school board to create a policy that is in line with what the people want,” he said.