DeKalb school district readies for battle over Atlanta annexation

2:15 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 Education
DeKalb School Superintendent Steve Green KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

The DeKalb County School District is fighting back against Atlanta’s recent annexation, calling the move “an enormous transfer of wealth from the children of DeKalb to an already wealthy school system.”

DeKalb School Superintendent Steve Green said, “We’re prepared for a court battle, if that’s what it comes down to.”

The 744-acre east-side annexation, which incorporates Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, changes school district boundaries for nine public school students, and about $2.5 million in tax dollars DeKalb currently receives would go to Atlanta Public Schools. It is the largest annexation since Buckhead was annexed 65 years ago.

The annexation was approved by Atlanta’s City Council on Dec. 4. The area becomes part of Atlanta in January. The students affected will become part of APS on July 1.

Jenna Garland, a spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, declined to comment on the letter, saying it is still being reviewed.

In a letter to several area leaders, including Atlanta School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms, Green stated that his district supported the move before changes that meant Atlanta Public Schools would encroach on its territory.

“Key stakeholders obtained the district’s support through repeated promises by the key stakeholders that the annexation would not result in any encroachment on the district by Atlanta Public Schools,” Green wrote. “The basis for that promise was a blend of common sense and basic fairness, since there has been a century-long alignment between the affected area and the district.

“Further, no petitioner ever entertained or even hinted that the annexation was driven by any concerns related to school issues.”

APS pushed to be part of the annexation. Carstarphen said last month that her district should grow alongside the city and that the school system’s charter supports that thinking.

“All we know is that our charter is clear,” Carstarphen said Monday. “When the city grows, APS grows. That has been our position through the process. Annexation includes APS and that’s the basis for why we feel like we should grow with the city. That was recognized by the city council.”

About 70 percent of DeKalb Schools’ children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Green said by phone Monday that a dollar taken away from his district is a dollar not spent on services to improve the learning experience for his 102,000 students.

Green said he sent a letter to city officials — also sending a copy to Carstarphen — back in October, asking that they reconsider the move in its current form. He never received a response. He said he still hopes to resolve district issues before legal action is taken.

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