Thursday, November 20, 2014

Annexation Round-Up: Medlock's Schools

Awesome neighbor Brad create this map* and we added some labels for clarity. The map combines the recently unveiled
LaVista Hills (a mash-up of the Briarcliff and Lakeside proposals), the proposed annexation of Druid Hills into Atlanta (which includes Fernbank and Briar Vista Elementary School attendance zones, Druid Hills High School and Emory University), and maps of Decatur and Avondale (with proposed annexations included).
The popular kid in the middle, wearing green, is our Medlock neighborhood.

This post looks like more of the same: annexation blah blah blah! But it's actually about something extremely critical to our neighborhood: our schools (literally) and our attendance zones.

Our high school: "Together in Atlanta" is a group that formed in response to the DeKalb County School System's refusal to consider the proposed Druid Hills Charter Cluster. The cluster would have given more local control to parents and administrators of Druid Hills High School and all its feeder schools. Following a frustrating waiting period (the first submission was rejected; the second proposal was never put on the agenda by the DeKalb County School District board), the charter proposal was withdrawn by the organizers.  A subset of the planning group decided to split the cluster along neighborhoods served by Fernbank Elementary and Briar Vista Elementary and proposes to move these schools, as well as Druid Hills High School, into the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) system via annexation. An oft-repeated 1918 legal precedent claims that if a school's whole attendance zone is shifted to a new city, the city can have the buildings for free. That could allow APS to acquire the new Fernbank school and Briar Vista campuses; a Druid Hills High School take-over seems less clear, as only ~31% of Druid Hills High's attendance comes from the area currently included in the "Together in Atlanta" annexation plan. WABE reports that the group's annexation map has support from Atlanta mayor Kaseem Reed, and that DeKalb County Interim CEO Lee May has complained that DeKalb County was not consulted. To be fair, it seems that nobody consults the County when annexation plans are drawn, at least not publicly (cf., every other new annexation and city proposed last year). It is refreshing to hear a County officer publicly protest, as one would expect would happen every time that the Count's coffers, and ability to provide the services required by law, are threatened.

Not surprisingly, many are disappointed and even angry that Druid Hills interests at the driving seat are proposing this "grab and run"the Druid Hills Charter Cluster concept drew heavily on the benefits of promoting interaction and collaboration among the communities within in the Druid Hills High attendance zone.

Our elementary schools: Meanwhile, the new Briarcliff/Lakeside city proposal (aka "LaVista Hills") has drawn its boundary to include Laurel Ridge Elementary, which currently serves elementary school-aged Medlock children. Laurel Ridge, too,  is part of the Druid Hills High School feeder pattern. LaVista Hills does not include the Medlock neighborhood.

Medlock children also have the option of attending the International Community School (ICS), a K-6 DeKalb County School District charter that currently occupies the grounds of Medlock Elementary (which closed in May 2011 due to redistricting). ICS is unique: 50% of its students are refugees and the rest come from all over the County via lottery. Should our neighborhood's status change and should we no longer be part of the DeKalb School System, ICS's lease would be in jeopardy. Any annexations that impact the County's school system budget of course also impact the school's operations.

Decatur would immediately syphon millions of dollars out of the
DeKalb County Schools District, and that number will only grow as
our area's business corridor continues to develop. Click to enlarge.
Source: Medlock annexation survey, Nov. 2014
Denial of service: The Medlock neighborhood survey favored joining the City of Decatur, even though Decatur had already stated their lack of interest in our neighborhood during a meeting with the MANA board. Decatur has repeatedly stated its school system is operating at capacity and the school-age population will continue to grow. Decatur proposes to address this issue through an unreasonable annexation plan that would sequester extensive commercial revenue out of DeKalb County's tax digest (added bonus: these monies would also help modulate future property tax increases for Decatur residents, at the expense of the rest of the county). Click on the image to the left to see how much Decatur's plan would impact DeKalb County schools.

Obviously children will go to school somewhere once the dust settles, but this situation is quite disturbing to Medlock neighborhood residents who have been part of the Druid Hills High School family for decades and who are currently loving the learning environment at Laurel Ridge Elementary. To have external interests heedlessly tear apart our school attendance patterns (and funding) is not only harmful, it is outright bizarre. We trust that legislators will appreciate how irregular a situation this is, and acknowledge its impact on our neighborhood and all our residents, whether they have school-age children or not. 

What's next?: Mark Niesse at the AJC reported that Amy Carter (Chairwoman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee) has named the 5-person committee that will draw boundaries for the proposed new cities. The threat of this outcome was in place since summer, when Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker organizers were instructed to produce non-overlappling maps by November 15; they missed the deadline. Going forward, the AJC notes that map-making will be in the hands of
Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville,
Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem,
Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming,
Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta,
and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur,
Their mission, which they have chosen to accept: "to produce a map decided by a majority vote. That map would then be considered during the regular legislative session, which begins in January."

If you would like to reach out to these representatives to say "please look out for our great neighborhood and DeKalb County as a whole", or whatever outcome you prefer, their addresses are included above. The school attendance issue is separate from the annexation issues that these legislators are trying to address, but it is also obvious that the committee's decisions will impact school attendance and will no doubt be informed by that issue.
* Map Sources: