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.
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
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.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” — Frederick Douglass
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”