Atlanta and city schools poised for major expansion to Emory

When the city of Atlanta expands to cover Emory University, the city school system will grow with it.

A city committee voted Wednesday to allow Atlanta Public Schools to extend its boundaries along with the city’s, clearing the way for approval of the annexation. Under a previous plan, the Emory area would have remained part of DeKalb County schools even after joining the city.

Final votes by the Atlanta City Council to annex 744 acres are scheduled for Monday, more than a year after Emory and surrounding properties began the process of becoming part of a city.

If approved, it will be the city’s largest expansion since adding Buckhead in 1952. It would take effect Jan. 1 for the city itself and July 1 for city schools.

The area includes Emory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, all of which will become part of the city of Atlanta in DeKalb County. These properties are currently in unincorporated DeKalb.

The number of affected students is expected to be small, fewer than 10, but APS will gain about $2.25 million in property tax revenue paid by businesses and residents if the annexation passes, according to the city’s financial analysis.

The school district pushed to be included in the annexation.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said APS should expand alongside the city limits and that the school system’s charter supports that stance.

“We are pleased to see the city grow, and we are excited that outstanding institutions like Emory University, the CDC, and CHOA want to become part of the City of Atlanta,” she said in a statement Thursday. “Atlanta Public Schools also wants to participate in that growth. Our APS charter, and approximately 145 years of precedent, establish that our boundaries must remain conterminous with the boundaries of the City of Atlanta. As with all annexations, we look forward to serving any children who reside in our city.”

City council members overwhelmingly wanted APS as part of the annexation, said Melissa Mullinax, a senior adviser to Mayor Kasim Reed. She said the mayor decided to support the school district’s inclusion Monday. The Council’s Finance/Executive Committee voted 4-0 on Wednesday to back that proposal.

DeKalb County Board of Education member Marshall Orson said he’s concerned that annexations could slowly chip away at his school district.

“It’s not the number of students or even the dollars,” he said. “It’s the larger issue of whether these annexations begin to destabilize the DeKalb County School District. We fully expect the city will look for ways to annex. Quite often these are driven by issues unrelated to schools.”

Once Emory is part of the city, city tax money can be used to fund the Clifton Corridor light-rail MARTA line from Lindbergh Station to the university’s campus. DeKalb’s government doesn’t have funding for MARTA expansion.

“This annexation aligns institutions that need and want public transit with a city government that is eager to lead,” said City of Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Daniel L. Gordon in an August editorial published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Emory, CHOA and the CDC are ready to move forward, and the city of Atlanta is ready to serve.”

APS hasn’t decided which schools the students will attend, said Chief Engagement Officer Angela King Smith.

“We won’t determine that until the city council passes the annexation ordinance. We have to wait until it’s officially adopted before … we start to assign the students to a cluster,” she said.

The district will consider factors such as the number of students, transportation, and services the students need.

While the area doesn’t include many residences, international researchers at the CDC and Emory University occasionally bring children with them when they move into short-term housing at Villa International, a facility within the annexation area.

Villa International Executive Director Camille Gaffron said there are no school-age children currently living at the villa. Last year, she said there were just two.

Staff writer Marlon A. Walker contributed to this story.

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