DeKalb schools sue to block Atlanta annexation

The city of Atlanta violated its charter in an “11th-hour change” to its annexation of the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University, DeKalb County Schools said in a lawsuit seeking to stop the annexation.

In the lawsuit, filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, the district argues the annexation is void because its passage violated procedural rules set forth in the Atlanta City Charter. The city of Atlanta and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore are listed as defendants on the civil filing.

“The result could not be more unfair,” the district said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the ordinance will effectively transfer to (Atlanta Public Schools) from (the) DeKalb County School District over $2 million dollars in tax revenue, when APS is already the richest school system in Georgia.

“Our complaint seeks an immediate injunction against the expansion of APS boundaries into the annexed area, and a permanent injunction invalidating the annexation ordinance.”

District officials have expressed concerns since last fall about the annexation, saying they were initially told it would not impact the school district. Days before the Atlanta City Council voted on the ordinance, DeKalb County School District officials said the proposal was changed to give APS about $2.5 million in tax funds and nine students eligible to attend public schools.

“Up to that point, we had been supportive of the annexation,” DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green said Monday. “We’ve been trying to find some kind of mutually agreeable situation, but we’ve said we were ready to take legal action if needed.”

Michael Smith, a spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, said Monday he could not comment, as the city has yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit.

Emory University officials also declined to comment Monday.

Late Monday evening, APS spokesman Ian Smith suggested via email that the district would not comment on the lawsuit, as it is now for a court to decide.

“Our Charter requires that APS’ borders must expand coterminous with the City’s borders each time new territory is annexed, supporting 145 years of precedent,” he said. “We remain committed to serving all children who reside in our city and preparing them to graduate ready for college and career.”

APS officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The annexation — 744 acres, the largest by Atlanta since Buckhead was annexed 65 years ago — was approved by the Atlanta City Council on Dec. 4. The area became part of Atlanta in January. The students affected are to become part of APS on July 1.

APS pushed to be part of the annexation. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said late last year 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 then. “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.”

Emory University officials began pushing about a year ago to be annexed into Atlanta.

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

DeKalb County School District officials say they have sought every possible solution to avoid a court battle. In December, Green sent a letter to area leaders — including former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond — asking that they reconsider the last-minute change that grew APS boundaries along with the city’s.

“The expansion of APS into DeKalb County was never sought or contemplated by the petitioning property owners,” he said in the letter. “Moreover, this last-minute change threatens the financial stability of the District and impedes its ability to comply with state and federal education mandates, to the direct detriment of children.”

In February, Green and members of the DeKalb County Board of Education met with state legislators to discuss legislative intervention. About a month later, before spring break, Green said he met privately with Carstarphen about a written agreement that would satisfy both sides. She cut off communication a short time after, he said, after Green attended a hearing and spoke publicly about the annexation.

In less than a month the school district changes take effect, which is what prompted the legal filing, he said.

“It puts us in an awkward situation,” he said. “we’ve said we’re prepared to move forward this way, but we were not wanting to. Changes coming up in the next few weeks will result in a significant shortfall of services to our students. We’ve tried every means, legislative and diplomatic.

“The door still remains open to that.”

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