- By Marlon A. Walker The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
State legislators will introduce a bill to protect DeKalb schools after the district says $2.5 million in tax revenue was lost when the city of Atlanta annexed Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control.
DeKalb County School District officials asked for legislative intervention Thursday in a meeting with senators from DeKalb County, with school board members suggesting the district would continue to be vulnerable in future annexations.
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“We need your help,” DeKalb County Board of Education Vice Chairman Marshall Orson said. “Seems crazy a decision about who picks up your trash should drive where your children go to school.
“This is serious and, likely, harmful.”
State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said the legislation would likely protect the district in future annexations. She added she’s hopeful the district will find resolution in conversations that school officials are seeking with Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council.
“This legislation would be more forward-thinking, in case there were other annexations that were to occur … that sort of piecemeal destabilize the Dekalb Schools,” she said.
In December, the Atlanta City Council approved the city’s largest expansion in 65 years — enveloping Emory, the CDC and bringing an additional 6,400 people to the city. The annexation took effect Jan. 1. DeKalb County School District officials said they had been assured before the vote that their tax base would remain unchanged. When the vote took place, though, the district lost nine students and $2.5 million in tax revenue.
Carstarphen said in November her district should grow with the the city, an 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.”
DeKalb Schools Superintendent Steve Green has said he’s disappointed the school district was not informed of changes to the annexation agreement that allowed APS to take students and tax money. Carstarphen has not responded to requests from the district to engage in conversations about the annexation.
About 70 percent of DeKalb school children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Green said recently that each dollar taken from his district is one not spent on services to improve the learning experience for his 102,000 students.
“Losing $4 or $5 million in perpetuity is a challenge,” he said.