Marshall Orson On Annexation and the Druid Hills Cluster

In the wake of the Druid Hills Cluster vote denying them their charter cluster, a subset of the cluster known as Together in Atlanta (TIA) has put together a petition to annex Druid Hills into Atlanta with the purpose of “more responsive and locally-controlled schools, zoning, and other governmental services.”
Marshall Orson is the District 2 Representative on the DeKalb County Board of Education. While living in the proposed annexed Druid Hills area, Mr. Orson has remained, in his own words, “matter of fact” about his views and released this statement about annexation and the Druid Hills Cluster.
By Marshall Orson, DeKalb County Board of Education
Back in November I promised to write a series of posts on annexation and city-hood but things have moved so rapidly, and some issues have become so contentious, that I thought it best to wait. However, I realize that things I have said in public and private may be given their own meaning unless I put them in context. Some have defined my observations as advocacy. Others ascribe a more sinister view to such observations. Perhaps it would have been better to just say nothing but I think an informed public is critical to any decisions that may be made. So, here goes:
1. I favor an outcome that keeps the Druid Hills Cluster intact. If annexation is not approved, that will occur on its own. We will all lose if we lose the Druid Hills Cluster as we know it. However, I worry that the tone and temperament of comments made now pose the very real risk of leaving the DH community divided even if annexation does not occur. We are entering a chaotic period with great uncertainty and growing levels of anxiety and we should all strive to minimize these potential consequences.
2. I have shared in various quarters that, if an annexation were to occur, organizing along school attendance zones makes sense and that there Is a logic behind utilizing elementary attendance zones since they are aligned with neighborhoods. When in conversations with those who favor or are involved in annexation efforts, I have made the point that the potential success of their efforts are intertwined with how the boundaries are defined. However, I appreciate that one set of logical divisions (i.e. elementary attendance zones) ignores other logical and compelling organizing principles (e.g. the middle and high school attendance zones). Thus, I have come to realize that what was intended to reduce chaos (i.e. identifying pathways to minimize the division of neighborhoods) may in fact be interpreted differently by some.
3. I have made the point that the law appears to provide that the control of school buildings shift when an annexation involves a city that has its own school system. Quite frankly, I was surprised that the case law and other authority appear to provide this outcome. Some have interpreted my statements as advocating such an outcome. I am simply reporting what I know and I welcome other authority that would enable us to re-frame the narrative about the buildings. However, I think, at a certain level, the buildings are a distraction given there are only a few possible outcomes—the buildings do not shift, the buildings shift and payments are made, or the buildings shift for free. None of these outcomes directly address what I believe is the underlying critical issue for our Druid Hills community– how we keep the DH Cluster intact.
4. Annexation is a big if. The Legislature might not approve an annexation plan or it might defer consideration to another session. The Legislature could approve a plan but the voters could reject it. But, if the Legislature and the voters approve such a plan, I believe there is a pathway to keep the Druid Hills Cluster intact. Article IX, Section 3 of the Georgia Constitution provides that governmental entities, including school districts, may contract with each other for a period up to fifty years for the joint provision of services and shared use of facilities. I am not suggesting this would be easy nor is this statement intended as a straw man to dampen opposition to annexation. Rather, I think it is critical that we look for solutions consistent with our stated intentions and goals—in this case to keep the DH Cluster intact, and what I hope is our larger shared goal to ensure that all our children have the opportunity to receive a great education.
I tend to be matter of fact—a big downside of my training as a lawyer! So, I speak in terms of success or failure, what I believe to be factually correct, and what I hope is objective but I now realize may not sound that way to all who hear what I say. These issues are incredibly emotional and personal—those on either “side” (and there may be more than two sides) have compelling arguments for their point of view. We are talking about our children and grandchildren, our communities, and our shared history. I promise to be mindful and respectful of this as we proceed through these issues and challenging times.

Marshall Orson is a graduate of the Duke University School of Law and took office in January 2013.  He has two children who attend public school in the Druid Hills cluster.

4 responses to “Marshall Orson On Annexation and the Druid Hills Cluster

  1. via DekalbSchoolWatch
    Thanks for your comments, Marshall. I too have found it very hard to be perceived as neutral around an issue that is so heated. We currently live in “uncontested” property within the LaVista Hills proposed area. If given the chance to vote on cityhood, I should be weighing the cost/benefit of the proposal itself for my current, permanent home and neighborhood. But I am very concerned that my old neighborhood (zoned for McLendon Elementary and where we still own a home) is left out of every single cityhood proposal. Evergreen Forest has been unwanted by Lakeside, Briarcliff, LaVista Hills, Atlanta, Decatur, Clarkston, Avondale, and City of South DeKalb.
    At present, it would be an unincorporated island bordered by LaVista Hills, Atlanta (Together in Atlanta’s proposal), Decatur, Avondale, Clarkston, and City of South DeKalb. Yes, all but one of the cities being proposed! The only reason I can discern why our neighborhood is unwanted is because it is a mix of residential properties–modest single-family homes and apartment buildings. The proposals would annex almost all businesses bordering our old neighborhood, and the “island” is much too small to incorporate alone.
    From what I can tell, all efforts to be included in one of–truly, any single one of–the proposed cities has been met with “No thank you.” And it appears that these property owners will not get a chance to vote on the proposed cities, even though the cities are being carving out of the county to which they have paid property taxes for 50+ years. Talk about being the lonely kid on the playground!

  2. Disheartened in DeKalb

    via DekalbSchoolWatch
    Thank you for remaining objective Marshall, when your home and children are also affected. It was very disheartening to me to read that only Druid Hills HS, Fernbank and Briar Vista Elementary would be incorporated. Regardless what happens to the buildings, as you say, our DeKalb community would lose three plum schools. The Druid Hills cluster wanted to remain part of DeKalb County Schools, and was willing to take responsibility for the success of the strong as well as the struggling schools in their cluster.
    The City would be taking the best and leaving the rest to struggle on their own. And DeKalb is requesting a million and a half dollars in legal fees to stop the annexation. Why would DeKalb taxpayers allow this money to be taken away from teacher and student needs and spent on lawyers when an easy, free solution would be for DCSD to approve the Druid Hills Cluster Charter. If it doesn’t prove to be in the students’ best interests it can certainly be revoked and should be. But as the adults responsible for the education of all the children in our community how can we spend years disrupting their schools and huge sums of money going to court to fight something that can be resolved respectfully in two hours for no cost?

  3. A lot of this is in DeKalb county school systems hands and they seem to want to ramp up the anxiety through the litigation plan( their only plan for annexation transition so far) and the superintendents “no we won’t talk to them” position. It might be a great political and power strategy but it is messing with people’s lives by providing no certainty. Is that not what our government is fundamentally for? Certainty, safety, security. I am glad we have two board members that seem to recognize this. I really hope that you can convince to others to force the school district to come up with a plan, and start talking, with the community, for those that want to stay, with those that want to leave, and with school systems that they’re going to have to work with in the future.

  4. The charter cluster involving 7 schools was too ambitious and many children would have been left behind. As the group, TiA has proven, they have thrown down the gauntlet by taking what is not theirs. This should speak VOLUMES as to the character of those behind the charter cluster. This cluster was a secession and nothing more and they are proving by throwing the entire school system into disarray. People need to wake up and see these people for who they really are. It was about their kids, not yours–and it still is. Within a year or two, services and support would have certainly faltered to the schools outside the Fernbank-Druid Hills area. They promised teachers their jobs–not true. They would have to apply to APS and take what they are given. With DeKalb School bouncing back into the best shape they have been in for a decade is not the time to look at a school system that fosters cheating and scandals among teachers. We do not know how this may have impacted the children at this point. Come to meetings. Write your legislature. There is no need for DeKalb to get into lawsuits spoiled people back off and send their kids to the private schools they can afford.