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With regrets, School Board supports annexation plan

Annexation and new cities Decatur Metro ATL

With regrets, School Board supports annexation plan

The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education met on Dec. 17, 2014. File Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education met on Dec. 17, 2014. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education met on Dec. 17, 2014. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education voted to support the city’s annexation plans, but that doesn’t mean board members have to like it.

School Board members met for an hour early Wednesday morning, Dec. 17, to approve a resolution backing up the city’s plan. It contained four provisions that board members got city leaders to agree to in exchange for their support.

The city agreed …

– To identify an area for a new school. School Board member Garrett Goebel said the wording is intentionally vague but said it would most likely be another elementary school.

– That the current city commission encourage future commissions to be cautious about rezoning commercial areas as residential areas.

– That the City Commission would put a General Obligation bond on the ballot in 2015 so the school system pay for expanding its facilities. During the meeting, board members said legislators have discussed the possibility of putting all annexation referendums on the ballot in July and the school board would push to have its General Obligation referendum in November. Board members said a November vote on a GO bond would bring out more parents to support it and also avoid tying it to the issue of annexation. The bond will be needed either way to pay for expanding CSD’s facilities, School Board members said.

– That CSD won’t provide educational services to the newly-annexed areas until 18 months after the effective annexation date.

Board member Annie Caiola tried to get her fellow board members to agree to a fifth condition: that CSD would work with neighboring communities, like the Medlock neighborhood, to ensure any annexation plans passed by the General Assembly are fair for everyone. Other board members appreciated the sentiment but rejected that idea, saying there were a lot of negotiations to get the city to agree to the four conditions in the resolution.

Decatur has discouraged Medlock from petitioning the city because it has about 1,400 homes.

Decatur City Commissioners on Monday, Dec. 15, approved the city’s annexation master plan contingent upon support of the School Board.

The School Board had the opportunity to pass a resolution in support of the plan on Dec. 9. But board members wanted more time to study the annexation proposal.

The Decatur schools system’s current enrollment is around 4,300 students. A consultant’s report on enrollment estimates that the city’s school system will grow to 7,398 students by 2020 without annexation in a high-growth scenario. But the annexation plans include commercial areas like Suburban Plaza and don’t include the neighborhoods adjacent to them.

Members of the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association spoke at the meeting and asked board members to vote against the resolution.

“It’s real divisive that the city of Decatur has suddenly become our enemy, this sort of vulture taking things that are ours,” MANA treasurer Judy Perras said.

MANA secretary Tanya Myers said the commercial areas generate $5 million for the DeKalb County School District and will likely bring in more as they are redeveloped. An annexation of these areas could harm schools that that serve the Medlock community.

All board members said they were sorry they have to do any of this at all, but the push to incorporate new cities like LaVista Hills and Tucker is driving the process. These cities are seeking to leave DeKalb County’s dysfunctional government, but in the process it’s forcing other cities to stake their claims to properties that aren’t in the map of Tucker or LaVista Hills.

School Board Member Julie Rhame said she sympathized with the concerns raised by the Medlock neighborhood.

“If we took in 1,400 homes it would be the nail in the coffin,” Rhame said.