DeKalb, Decatur school districts celebrate passage of annexation legislationDeKalb County Board of Education Chairwoman Vickie Turner (left) and Decatur School Board Chairwoman Tasha White participated in a press conference on Thursday, May 13, to celebrate the passage of a local annexation bill. The two board chairs were praised by other local leaders for their work on the passage of the legislation. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur and the DeKalb County School District have come to an historic agreement regarding annexation as Gov. Brian Kemp signed a Senate Bill 293 earlier this week that resolves disputes over school district boundaries when annexations occur.
State legislators and School Board members of both school districts came together on Thursday, May 13, to celebrate the passage of the legislation.
“This is a historic day in the nearly 200 year history of our county where the Decatur City Schools and the DeKalb County School District can come together around one idea and that is that we leave no child behind, that we love our children and we put our children first,” DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said during the May 13 press conference.
He added that children make up 40% of the county’s population but represent 100% of the future.
“DeKalb can’t be great unless the Decatur City Schools and the DeKalb County School District are put first on the agenda,” Thurmond said.
In 2019, Gov. Kemp vetoed a similar bill, Senate Bill 53, following a last minute push by City Schools of Decatur to reject the legislation. The previous bill would’ve made school annexations separate from municipal ones, meaning they would need to be approved in a separate referendum, Decaturish previously reported.
“The very biggest difference…is that the former bill made it much easier to have people that were municipal residents of Decatur but attended DeKalb County Schools,” state Sen. Elena Parent said on the May 12 Decaturish Twitch show. “This bill will essentially make it so that if you annex into Decatur you are eligible for the schools.”
Parent, who sponsored SB 293, further explained that the legislation solves the outstanding issues related to commercial property taxes and school building annexations.
“Most people probably would be surprised to find out that were Decatur or Atlanta to annex one of the school buildings that are very close to their borders that have always been DeKalb County properties, that DeKalb County Schools would be owed no compensation for that,” Parent said.
But the new law outlines the necessary steps for DeKalb County schools to be repaid for annexations, state Rep. Becky Evans said on the Twitch show.
“If any commercial areas annex that revenue stays with DeKalb County School District,” Evans said. “Then there are protections in there for Decatur. If they start to lose money on their annexations then there is a way for them to get a credit from the commercial dollars for the properties that are under DeKalb’s control.”
The bill seemed to pass the state legislature at the last minute but state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver said it was important that CSD support SB 293 and Parent admitted there was some confusion along the way.
“I felt like the city of Decatur School Board really had to come forward and say we support 293, we will not ask for a veto like we did last time, we’re going to tell the governor that this is a bill we support. That caused some delay,” Oliver said.
On March 30, a day before the last day of the session, the Decatur School Board signed and released a letter showing support for Senate Bill 292 and Senate Bill 293, the annexation bill. That show of support was an indication the School Board wouldn’t do the same thing it did to the annexation bill in 2019.
DeKalb County Board of Education Chair Vickie Turner said during the May 13 press conference that to her understanding the two school districts are the first to have this type of agreement in place.
“I do believe we’re on the precipice of something great and that greatness denotes the collaboration of two school districts that have decided to put aside hidden agendas, put aside irrelevant things and put children first,” Turner said.
“Our students won this week. The students of DeKalb County School District, the students of [City Schools of Decatur] district, they are the winners. We just get to be there and get some of that glory that just falls back,” she added.
She and other speakers at the press conference thanked Kemp for signing the legislation.
“Thank you for putting aside any hidden things and saying the children of DeKalb, the children of [City Schools of Decatur], they deserve it and they will be my priority,” Turner said.
CSD School Board Chair Tasha White recalled that she first met Turner to figure out how to get to the other side of this situation. She recognized the hard work of all those involved in the effort, from the board of education members to the schools’ leadership to the DeKalb legislative delegation.
“[Turner] never gave up and I never gave up and that’s how we got here today. I am just humbled and honored to be here. It wasn’t easy to get here,” White said. “I really do look forward to the rest of this year and the coming year on this board and specifically working closely and growing with the DeKalb County Schools.”
Parent was also in attendance to celebrate with the school districts. She said that sometimes a myopic focus on a situation can arise when school districts try to focus on the interest of their students.
“But we never lost sight of the fact that we want every child in DeKalb County to thrive and have an excellent education and that all the time we partner together as opposed to working at odds with each other is an opportunity for our systems to do better, to perform better,” Parent said. “And really for all of us to be the type of community and school systems that we want.”
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