Category Archives: Druid Hills Charter Cluster

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.

Georgia’s Ethics in Government

In light of the recent Superintendent Report on the Druid Hills Annexation, it is important that DeKalb County School District employees and board members know and comply with the provisions of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act (O.C.G.A Section 21-5-1). The Act allows certain activities, but prohibits others, to influence voter approval or rejection of a constitutional amendment, legislation, or referendum such as educational SPLOST or city annexation. This post is adapted from a variety of documents, including materials from the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia PTA, and Gwinnett Schools.
The DeKalb County School District, its employees and board members may provide the public only with objective, factual information. The school district may educate voters about a referendum, but it may not contribute to a campaign committee that is promoting or opposing the issue or attempting to influence voters to vote a certain way. Informational materials developed by the school system must not be perceived as campaign material or be promotional in nature.
No  public funds or resources can be used to promote or oppose voter approved issues. Public  resources include, but are not limited to, school system/local school email, websites, newsletters,  facilities, copy machines, paper, phones, audiovisual equipment, computers, vehicles, and employee time during work hours or in a capacity as an employee after work hours.
Employees may work to promote or oppose voter issues only as private citizens on their own time. Employees have the same civic responsibilities and privileges as any other citizen including the privilege of campaigning for and actively supporting causes in the political arena. An employee’s political activities must not interfere or conflict with an employee’s job.
Permitted Activities
School board members and superintendents may, on their own time and with their own resources, influence the passage of a referendum. They may appear at public events and speak on behalf of the issue. They should be careful to emphasize, however, that they are not speaking on behalf of the board or in their official capacity.
School administrators may speak at parent-teacher organization meetings as long as the meeting is not held during the school day and attendance is voluntary.
School administrators, teachers, and other employees, as individuals, may endorse and contribute to the campaign. However, any written or oral endorsement should contain a disclaimer that it is not being made in the person’s capacity as a school official or employee.
School districts can provide the public and the media with factual, objective information about a referendum. Such material must not be biased or handled in a way that could be perceived by the public as campaign material.
Prohibited Activities
School administrators and other employees may not spend time during the school day on activities influencing a referendum. During working hours, they should not appear at public events to speak on behalf of the campaign, solicit campaign contributions, or distribute campaign literature.
Schools should not send home with students any materials in support or opposing a referendum. School newspapers, newsletters, and other educational literature should not contain advertisements, columns, or editorials by staff members that promote or oppose passage of an issue. School mailing labels may not be used to mail campaign materials.
School districts, school boards, and schools may not spend public funds on advertising (print or electronic) intended to influence voters.
School administrators must be careful that their actions toward teachers do not appear coercive. While they can remind staff of the date for voting and provide information about the referendum, they should not seek to influence those they supervise to vote a certain way. Administrators should make clear that employees will not suffer adverse consequences if they choose not to support or contribute to the referendum or do not vote.