Together In Atlanta

Back To Annexation Report

RELEASE December 9, 2014
Together In Atlanta responds to correct errors in Superintendent Michael Thurmond’s presentation, Annexation: Student Enrollment and Tax Implications.

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Superintendent Michael Thurmond made a presentation to the public and the Board of Education regarding Atlanta annexation at the December 8 Board Meeting. Together In Atlanta (TIA) has proposed to maintain the integrity of the Fernbank and Briar Vista Elementary School communities through annexation to Atlanta, in light of the municipalization of DeKalb, which has gained momentum since 2008. While Mr. Thurmond’s interest in the Druid Hills Cluster is welcome, his presentation contained errors and information that are not up to date. Although as recently as last the Superintendent responded negatively to DeKalb Board Member’s request he meet with TIA and has previously shown no interest in the annexation movement, TIA is happy to provide this information so that correct information might be disseminated. We share the goal of success for all students, and the provision of clear and accurate information so that the democratic process of choice can be best-pursued.

Our organization will strive to provide accurate and balanced information that will help guide citizens through an incredibly complex issue. Our organization will strive not to provide negative points of view regarding the Board of Education or DeKalb County. Citizens will have choices; that is democracy. We hope that DeKalb County, the DeKalb Board of Education, the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Public Schools and all interested parties will present accurate facts that demonstrate the positives of their government services and not engage in negative campaigning and attacks. We want to be Together In Atlanta.

Background

Together In Atlanta exists as a result of municipalization efforts across DeKalb County that commenced in 2008 and resulted in the cities of Dunwoody and Brookhaven. In 2012 and 2013, several cityhood movements gained momentum in the General Assembly, including a City of DeKalb, Lakeside, Briarcliff, Tucker, and Stonecrest. The attendance zones for Fernbank and Briar Vista elementary schools, the core of communities, was bisected and affected by many of these legislative proposals. The result would break communities with decades of cohesion. Meanwhile citizens with the Druid Hills neighborhood, which is partially within the City of Atlanta began to consider annexation as an option to forming a new city or becoming an orphan to unincorporated DeKalb. Together In Atlanta sought a plan that would maintain the community, while not affecting the rights of self-determination or cohesion of other elementary school zones. The result is a map that follows exactly the longstanding DCSD zone boundaries for Fernbank and Briar Vista elementary schools.

TIA has Met with Cityhood Proponents and Recommended Adams Stadium, the former Briarcliff High School, and International Center Complex be Excluded from Annexation

When the LaVista Hills map was recently published, TIA reached out proactively to its organizers to resolve conflicts – including suggesting that the Adams Stadium/former Briarcliff High School/International Center complex be included in the LaVista Hills map, not the Atlanta map. This resolution would preserve those facilities for DCSD students. No families live on that property and therefore the integrity of the Briar Vista community would not be harmed by this resolution maintaining TIA’s principle for keeping the elementary schools together. LaVista Hills gains strength and viability with commercial and educational assets. We expect to have similar conversations with Decatur representatives. We believe there are solutions that meet each party’s needs around the edges of all our maps. Had the Superintendent contacted TIA or others involved in these discussions, he would have been aware that TIA’s has clearly and specifically proposed to exclude the Adams Stadium/former Briarcliff High School/International Center complex.

The challenge for all of us, inside the Atlanta annexation map and outside, is that we each lose a building, while maintaining our community. Inside the map communities lose a Middle School building, outside the map communities lose a High School. Reasonable people can disagree about the organizing principle, however we believe that neighborhoods and communities are defined most directly by Elementary Schools – in terms of property value, identities, volunteerism, and childhood friendships. More importantly, we believe minimizing student disruptions is most important at these early learning stages. So we turn forward and look for solutions to “losses” we face.

1. We will solve the Middle School challenge working with Atlanta Public Schools and our communities; we will work collaboratively and creatively to do so.
2. Communities outside the map have assets with which to face the High School challenge – former Briarcliff High School, Avondale High School, Avondale Middle School, and Druid Hills Middle School are all facilities available and with capacity to create exciting, convenient learning environments in the neighborhoods they serve. There should be no doubt DCSD, working with those communities, could find a way forward as well.

Parents in the Atlanta map area should be aware that of the 1626 students the Superintendent’s presentation claims are displaced, using DCSD’s own numbers 1414 are students within the Fernbank and Briar Vista zone whose parents will be given the opportunity to vote by referendum. If parents voluntarily choose to move their children to another school district, “displacement” is clearly the wrong word to use. The Atlanta Public School system has a much more robust program for school choice, charters, a small school program, learning communities, and other programs that parents can consider and choose. It is regrettable that the Superintendent chose to consider students within the zone as ‘displaced’ as they are more properly going to be given greater choice. The Superintendent’s presentation appears overstated at every possible assertion.

Taxes

APS millage including bonds is 21.74 mills;
DCSD millage is 23.98 mills.

The DCSD comparison does not focus on the bottom line differences to taxpayers and instead focuses on the HOST discount. The Druid Hills Civic Association has published tax information, confirmed with the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner, showing the difference in taxes between current DeKalb and Atlanta. While the Superintendent’s presentation claims increase of up to 60%, the actual tax figures for most taxpayers range from 8% lower in Atlanta to a maximum of 11% higher, with the majority of homes having little or no change. http://druidhills.org/2014/10/15/cityhood-annexation-options-and-their-effects-on-taxes-and-schools/. This analysis shows the cost differences to homeowners and factors in the proper charges and HOST credits. The Superintendent’s analysis is insufficient and does not present the whole story or relevant comparison. Citizens should dig deeper to determine what is in their best interest as taxpayers, parents and citizens. The annexation issue is new for most people. As we move forward, more information will become available, and we ask citizens to keep their options and minds open.

While the Superintendent wanders far afield by bringing police, fire, sanitation and water and sewer services into the discussion (incorrectly assuming continued fire and police service by DeKalb, when fire and police would be provided by Atlanta’s world-class fire and police departments, with double the personnel at about the same cost to the taxpayer), it is ironic that he ignores the straight costs comparison of the two school systems. DeKalb offers homestead properties $12,500 exemption while APS offers a $30,000 exemption. Moreover, the presentation also took liberty with senior exemptions, comparing Atlanta and DeKalb without acknowledging DeKalb does not apply senior exemptions until age 70, while Atlanta applies exemptions at age 65, amounting to five additional years of payment before receiving any senior exemption. APS has a millage of 21.74 while DeKalb charges 23.98 mills. For most homeowners, Atlanta is a less expensive provider of education services than DeKalb. Moreover the Superintendent’s comparison is wrong when or inaccurate when it comes to water and sewer, police and fire and the provision of other municipal services. Water and sewer will continue to be provided by DeKalb County.

The Superintendent brings the impact of HOST into the discussion perhaps to skirt the comparison of direct educational costs. HOST has never and will never be applied to school taxes. For countywide services the HOST discount will continue for any areas annexed into Atlanta. In fact, the likelihood that HOST will remain as it is currently configured is doubtful. That the DeKalb Superintendent chose to delve into areas of fire, police, garbage, water and sewer, which are outside the purview, authority, and expertise of the school system is unfortunate, particularly in light of the many pressing and germane issues facing the DeKalb school system. Issues of fire, police, garbage, and water and sewer are better addressed by the governments dedicated to serving those interests.

We believe the City of Atlanta offers the best option for the provision of municipal and education services to our neighborhoods. We would like the option to choose our destiny. We want to preserve the elementary school attendance zones should get an opportunity to vote on annexation. We are excited about the success of Atlanta, its trajectory going forward, and its responsiveness in this process. There are questions to be answered and a thorough, transparent process between now and a possible November 2015 referendum is essential to inform voters. Our pledge is to provide that access and information and we invite all who have an interest to join us in that work.