Emory Annexation Dominos

Nancy and Stan Jester
Nancy Jester
DeKalb County Commissioner

Last month Emory University began the process to be annexed into the city of Atlanta.
If Emory is annexed into Atlanta, it isn’t a stretch to see the scenario where the adjoining neighborhoods, including Druid Hills High School and two other elementary schools, would eventually end up annexed as well.  If these areas get annexed, the students within the new City of Atlanta will go to APS and the schools within the new City of Atlanta boundaries will become Atlanta Public School property.  The ensuing negotiation for the transition will be interesting.
If these schools and certain territories are annexed, many of the students that currently attend these schools would be displaced.  They could find themselves in DeKalb and their school suddenly outside of their school district.  DeKalb will be forced to redistrict and find new schools for the approximately 2000 students that attend these DeKalb schools now but will be outside of the City of Atlanta boundaries.  And, of course, the staff of those schools will need to be hired by APS or find other jobs within a smaller DeKalb district.

The DeKalb Board of Education member that represents this area, Marshall Orson, has been criticized in the past for appearing to support an Atlanta annexation in this area.
It’s interesting to note that recently Emory University has also worked with The City of Brookhaven’s Development Authority to secure a financial transaction, including beneficial taxation positions, in the Executive Park area that was recently annexed by Brookhaven.  Speculation is that Emory prefers negotiating with the City of Atlanta rather than DeKalb County regarding various issues.  In particular, Emory is suspected to prefer Atlanta’s position about any potential MARTA expansion.  Emory wants MARTA to have a rail stop in their Clifton corridor.  The leadership in DeKalb has been more committed to MARTA expansion in the I-20 corridor.
Past interactions with the school district also play large into this dynamic.  Many residents in that area were very disturbed by the inexplicable and divisive past denial of a well drafted Charter Cluster petition for the Druid Hills Cluster.  The DeKalb bureaucracy’s tendency to want to have micro-control over every school community could very well end up being its Achilles Heel.
For all the flaws of the City of Atlanta and APS, they appear much more receptive to localized control within the district than DeKalb.  The City’s NPUs (local Neighborhood Planning Units) have allowed 25 areas to exert control and influence over what occurs in those area.  Imagine if the DeKalb government had instituted and empowered NPUs?  Would there have been any motivation for the cityhood movement?  With a similar number of school clusters (24’ish), the school district COULD implement something like the NPU system.  Up to this point the school district has only shown a proclivity to centralize power and be punitive in the exercise thereof.
Could the tendencies to be overly controlling and centralized result in losing the prestigious Emory University and the CDC to a more welcoming and receptive City of Atlanta?  Will DeKalb County’s school district and county government leadership get a clue and start letting the various areas within their jurisdictions have more autonomy and self-determination?  Or, will DeKalb continue with it’s heavy handed, divisive, and biased methods?  Time will tell.
Nancy Jester
DeKalb County Commissioner

Annexation Impact Analysis
Funding Impact
Fernbank – Loss of Education SPLOST investment of $21 million
Briar Vista – ESPLOST – $1.3 million in construction renovations
Druid Hills – ESPLOST – $19 million in construction renovations
Student Impact – 2,000+ students would be displaced

14 responses to “Emory Annexation Dominos

  1. One can only hope that if Druid Hills is annexed Orson will be annexed with it. It is my understanding that DeKalb County would forward funds allotted for those students served by DH cluster to Atlanta so that they continue s to use the same feeder patterns.

  2. APS schools nearby are very overcrowded and obsorbing 2000 students would be impossible.
    Could you address Druid Hills HS – does the physical building belong to Emory Univ, or DCS?

  3. The building is owned by the school system. The best thing DeKalb could do would be to try to sell DHHS to Emory U. It would bring enough to refurbish Briarcliff High and possibly build a new middle school. Of course the school system may have waited too long. The price is diminishing.

  4. Stan, is this potential Atlanta annexation taken into account with any of the secondary school facility planning alternatives? It seems there are a lot of moving parts & pieces so I’m just trying to make sense of what is potentially happening and what the impacts would be to the current planning process.

  5. Marshall Orson

     sent via email
    I favor legislation as it creates a more permanent and clear solution.
    Emory announced it is seeking to be annexed into Atlanta. Emory plans to use the 100% method (i.e. all property owners agree and they are essentially the only property owner) which does not require approval of the Legislature. While its announcement asserted that its plans will have no impact on the schools because the annexation is intended to be limited only to Emory, we foresee both a direct financial impact from the handful of Emory properties (and possible adjacent properties owned by third parties) subject to ad valorem taxes as well as a potential impact arising from the bisecting of the Druid Hills neighborhood and the neighborhoods served by Briar Vista Elementary.
    I expressed the position that I believed it was critical we find a pathway to protect DCSD and its students which may require legislation to modify the annexation laws. While it is not certain that annexations change school districts in all cases, some older case law appears to support this conclusion.

  6. To Marshall’s point, the court case Board of Education of Fulton County v. Board of Education of College Park. 147 Ga. 776. 95 S.E. 684 (1918). Fulton BOE v College Park BOE seems to be the controlling ruling for the past century.
    In this case the Georgia Legislature authorized the creation of a new College Park city school district. A portion of the city was located in Fulton County and the school lands in that area had been purchased by and were under the control of the Board of Education of Fulton County. In upholding an injunction prohibiting the Fulton County Board of Education from interfering with the College Park Board of Education’s use, control and title to the school property located in Fulton County, the court said,

    “Where a municipality is authorized by the General Assembly to create a public-school system coextensive with its corporate limits, a part or all of which territory has theretofore been included within the system of public schools operated by the county, forming a portion of a school district, the municipality succeeds to the control of educational matters and to the title to the real estate held as public-school property within its territory”

    Furthermore, the Attorney General of Georgia issued two opinions, dated April 13, 1954, and August 24, 1961,

    “Where the corporate limits of a municipality are extended so as to take in an area where a county school is located, the school authorities of the independent municipal system succeed to the control of all educational matters in such area and also to title to real estate held as public school property, in the absence of expressed intent on the part of the Legislature or in the absence of an agreement between the interested parties.”

  7. GT. The school district is paying close attention to the annexation discussions. It would be a year or so before Emory is annexed. It would be at least 2 to 3 years before any of the surrounding area is annexed. It is a bit earlier to be actively planning for the loss of these schools. For all we know, the entire Druid Hills Cluster may seek annexation in a few years and the school district wouldn’t have to worry about hardly any displaced students.
    Marshall and the administration are seeking out alternative options through IGAs or legislation to help mitigate these risks.

  8. Has any thought been given to bringing the Druid Hills Charter Cluster before the School Board again? This proposal seems to be well written and thought through. It seems that we could learn a lot from this model.

  9. “Word that Emory University wants to join up with Atlanta came out of nowhere last week and brought together a room full of DeKalb County neighborhood leaders trying to figure out what the heck was going on.” – Bill Torpy, AJC.
    Funny – Bill is my favorite AJC writer, but how on earth can he say this came out of nowhere? Many of us have been predicting and writing about this for quite some time. Thanks goes to Michael Thurmond – for serving as DCSS Dictator and denying Druid Hills their charter as proposed without so much as a sit down meeting with the proponents. How did Thurmond acquire this level of power? From Marshall Orson!
    Personally, I suspect this has been Marshall’s plan all along. He worked with a parent group called APPLE, within Atlanta Public Schools for many years. He has close ties there. (Read about it on his DCSS bio: “The board of directors of APPLE Corps [Atlanta’s original local education fund) from 1986 to 2003 (including six years as chair or vice-chair). He subsequently served on the board of the Atlanta Committee for Public Education and was a member of the founding committee of Great Schools Atlanta.”] He was also instrumental in hiring Michael Thurmond behind closed doors with NO public input to replace the superintendent at the time, Cheryl Atkinson, who had literally gone AWOL. In addition, Marshall ensured the tearing down and rebuilding of Fernbank Elementary as a large-scale, all new school, even though millions had been spent renovating the school less than 10 years earlier (by Pat Pope and husband Vince), and even though the current attendance area did not have enough students to fill the available seats in the new building. Marshall has almost exclusively only advocated for Fernbank and Druid Hills High School during his tenure (unless he takes up the cause of renaming a school out of his district after his friend, John Lewis). Why? Because Marshall has long known and likely advanced the plan to annex the whole Druid Hills area into the City of Atlanta along with Emory and the CDC.
    Lawmaker: Board member appears to support ‘decimating’ DeKalb County School District
    Mar 19, 2015 6:19 PM
    DEKALB COUNTY, GA (CBS46) – A state legislator wants a DeKalb County school board member investigated for his alleged support and involvement in a controversial annexation effort that would cut some of the county’s best schools out of the district.
    Rep. Karla Drenner, of Avondale Estates, told CBS46 News that a constituent gave her a copy of Marshall Orson’s emails that were obtained through an open records request.
    “When I read these emails, I was surprised by the fact that a member of the DeKalb County School Board appears to be in support of decimating DeKalb County Schools,” said Drenner.
    Orson’s emails reveal the second-term board member has met multiple times with annexation advocates to discuss the planning of the annexation effort, even organizing at least one meeting.”
    Read more: http://www.cbs46.com/story/28566567/lawmaker-board-member-appears-to-support-decimating-dekalb-county-school-district#ixzz4JanBZYVx

  10. Standby to witness a plethora of new school districts when the need to undo the amendment to the state Constitution prohibiting the formation of new school districts is passed this November in order to approve the Governor’s Opportunity District for failing schools. People are literally chomping at the bit all around the state to gain local control of their schools. The jobs program that is the $1.3 Billion Enterprise called DeKalb County Schools is going to be hammered hard in the coming decade. It’s all good IMHO.

  11. FWIW, Marshall’s bio reads, “Mr. Marshall D. Orson was elected from District 2 which includes Druid Hills and Cross Keys High Schools, Druid Hills Middle School, Ashford Park, Briar Vista, Fernbank, Laurel Ridge, McLendon, Montclair, Sagamore Hills and Woodward Elementary Schools, the International Community School and the Margaret Harris Center.”
    I have to ask constituents from Cross Keys High Schools, Ashford Park, Briar Vista, Laurel Ridge, McLendon, Montclair, Sagamore Hills and Woodward Elementary Schools, the International Community School and the Margaret Harris Center – What has Marshall done for you?!!

  12. Tim DeBardelaben

    Marshall Orson’s main concern is Druid Hills. He has proved that on several occasions. Now he is using the Cross Keys Students to further his agenda. He pushed through a 900 student bldg for Fernbank E.S. When it was nit needed. Personally think he has ignored the parents of Cross Keys and their wishes for to long. They complained about their children being bussed from one end of Dekalb to the other. So DCSD decided to eliminate overcrowding at Elementary Schools they would buss the students from one side of Dekalb to the other.Think this was done because the power structure at Fernbank would stay in place. The parents from Cross Keys can not be involved with the PTO for a variety of reason and they knew this. If they had that many empty spots they could not be assured of what students would apply for those seats and or how active their parents would be. DCSD loves to talk about how diverse the county is, but they still have some policies and politics that come straight out of the 50’s and 60’s.

  13. There is no one to blame for annexation but DeKalb Schools and DeKalb County government. Druid Hills got a big middle finger from the school system when they proposed their charter cluster, and the school administration at the time pulled together more resources, graphs, charts, data, power points, and media than I have ever seen to combat the possible annexation. People in DeKalb are realizing that they might have a little more control than they thought. Some very smart and resourceful people live here and have decided they are not going to let an old-school power structure rule the entire county with an iron fist. In the near future, we will see annexations into Atlanta and annexations into new cities and a strong push for city schools. Again, DeKalb has no one to blame but themselves for this. They lived high on the hog for too long, and those chickens will come home to roost. There were plenty of opportunities to compromise and not just completely vacuum all of the money coming in, but they wasted those opportunities. I myself would like to see this massive county broken into much smaller, manageable, trackable bits, and however that happens is good with me.

  14. Michael Thurmond set aside $2.5 million when he was school superintendent – just to legally fight this annexation. So now, as CEO, will Thurmond expect the county commissioners to set aside $2.5 million to fight annexation of Emory to Atlanta?