Druid Hills annexation: ‘Creating more problems than solutions’

A Druid Hills Middle School teacher shared a compelling letter he wrote to legislators about annexation.

If annexed into Atlanta and APS, Druid Hills High School would lose some of the communities that now call the school their own.

If annexed into Atlanta and APS, Druid Hills High School would lose some of the communities that now call the school their own.

Many folks contend the annexation effort is an attempt to pressure DeKalb Schools into reconsidering the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, which was turned down by the school board.

Using a new state law, a group of DeKalb parents and teachers sought to unite seven DeKalb schools into a cluster that would have operated as an independent school system within the larger DeKalb district.

Increasingly, parents in DeKalb unhappy with the direction of the schools are looking for alternatives.

As AJC reporter Ty Tagami wrote in a Saturday AJC story:

Annexation. Incorporation. Charter schools.

People are trying anything to get away from the DeKalb County School District.

The foundering faith in Georgia’s third-largest school system stems from years of mismanagement and scandal, and observers expect the situation to either stabilize or deteriorate depending upon whom the school board selects as its next superintendent.

Some Druid Hills charter cluster supporters are now taking a surprising new tack – join the city of Atlanta and put schools under the control of APS.

That anyone wants to join Atlanta Public Schools in the wake of the district’s cheating scandal speaks to the star power of its new Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

Under the annexation plan, APS would absorb three schools that were part of the rejected cluster, including the crown jewel, Druid Hills High. While the high school has 1,386 students, most would be left out of the annexation as their communities are outside the proposed area.

Teacher Thomas Bodnar brings up some good points about the students and schools left behind.

Here is his letter:

​Legislators,

Let me start by expressing gratitude to each of you for all the work you do that contributes to the betterment of our governmental, social and economic structures in our area. I am compelled to write to you about the proposed issue of possible annexation of part of the Druid Hills community into the city of Atlanta and the consequent impact that it would have on our local school cluster.

I hope you are aware of how much community backlash there is against this concept.  A small but vocal minority has perpetuated this course of action largely because original proposals to create an autonomous charter cluster district between Druid Hills High School, Druid Hills Middle, Avondale Elementary, Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary, McLendon Elementary and Laurel Ridge Elementary was denied by the school board in November 2013. As a result; other courses of action were pursued to gain independence from DeKalb County Schools.

Unfortunately this new route includes zoning plans that will disrupt and divide a traditional cluster that has thrived and benefited from the diversity of all sides of its community. The proponents for annexation have acted hastily and emotionally out of their frustration from the charter cluster denial to create a hideous plan that will be a train wreck for this community.

To begin, I am a teacher at Druid Hills Middle and a coach for Druid Hills High School. Obviously the possible annexation would impact my possible working situation as well as the student populations serviced at the aforementioned schools. I was a big supporter of the possibility of autonomy for the proposed charter cluster from DeKalb County that was denied last year but that was with the understanding that we would continue to service the same population of students that we currently do.

New proposals will divide that traditional community and ultimately set us back 50 years as annexation boundaries segregate our diverse community. Roughly 80 percent of our current population would be excluded if annexation happens based on the zoning maps that annexation supporters have proposed for referendum.

The other 20 percent in the wealthier neighborhoods of our zone would attend a Druid Hills High that would be part of the new Atlanta Public Schools along with Fernbank and Briar Vista; with both of these now kindergarten-5th grade schools expanding to service students through 8th grade.

Our original cluster of seven would become one of three; with little consideration for how such actions impact Druid Hills Middle, Avondale Elementary, McLendon Elementary and Laurel Ridge Elementary. All of this is set to roll for 2016-2017 if enacted; one and a half years from current.

Civic surveys conducted in potentially impacted neighborhoods show a polarized community on the issue of annexation or remaining part of DeKalb unincorporated.  In fact, far more people strongly disagree with annexation than remaining as part of unincorporated DeKalb.

There are 250 people who responded that they strongly disagree with the annexation option, 28 percent of the total population surveyed.  Only 243 people strongly support annexation; thus the number strongly opposed outweighs the number in favor.  In contrast, 168 people were strongly against remaining in unincorporated DeKalb, 19 percent of the total number of respondents surveyed.  In short, no clear majority has been statistically demonstrated to justify moving forward with annexation when one carefully analyzes the results of survey respondents.

I work at a school where 92 nationalities are present and would argue that our diversity is our biggest asset. I don’t think you can quantify what an advantage it is for our students early on to exist in a microcosm of what the world constitutes. It helps prepare them for our increasingly connected and complex global community as adults. This is precious and we need to cherish the asset. I remember a professor of mine saying that “90 plus percent of kids go to school in environments not described statistically as diverse” as far as schooling.

Further, I also don’t have as much faith personally in the people whom I once supported the charter cluster district with; the same ones courting Atlanta for annexation.  They have greatly deviated from what they originally proposed for our school community.

In short, I care far more about servicing our continuing population than having autonomy at the expense of losing our diversity in the process. I philosophically can’t support people who are suggesting separation in our community.  They are now creating more problems than solutions.

Like many people surveyed in the neighborhoods; I hope we remain as part of DeKalb unincorporated. I hope any ideas that support breaking up the original cluster of seven schools are revisited. I’d also argue that the dialogue about this issue needs to continue and that targeting 2016-2017 for change is too soon. Cooler heads need to prevail and more opinions need to be weighed on these crucial issues.

A mentor of mine loves to say that “adult issues should never interfere in the educating of children” in the school community. In this case, the politics of property value, business and public service shouldn’t come at the expense of our school district.

 

 

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95 comments
3RsMom
3RsMom

So I guess Bodnar is not going to accept a job with APS in 2016 to teach the younger siblings of the same kids he teaches now but for $10K more a year?


BTW, the folks who think that Briar Vista and Fernbank are majority white need to update their information.  According to the state Department of Education website, Briar Vista is majority Hispanic, followed by African-American, and then white.  Whites only make up 26% of the students at Briar Vista.  Fernbank is indeed majority white, followed distantly by African Americans and then Asians in third place.  Whites make up 58% of the demographic mix at Fernbank, still well below the percentage that several folks claimed below..

pierre1852
pierre1852

@3RsMom If the annexation plan goes through, then APS will be charged with staffing these three schools, while all the teachers now employed at Fernbank, BVE and DHHS will remain DCSS employees. APS will be under absolutely no obligation to re-hire these teachers, no matter how pleased with the current DCSS teachers parents might be.  In fact, they will be under more of an obligation to fill these places with current APS employees, due to the strong claim to a position current employees have when applying for an intra-district transfer.  Since I can imagine many APS teachers (and not necessarily the best ones) finding the idea of teaching at Fernbank, BVE and DHHS quite attractive, the surplus DCSS teachers will be out in the cold.  I just wonder how the loss of teachers the caliber of Mr. Bodnar and others is going to make things better for anybody concerned--children, teachers, or parents.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but on Jan. 28 the DeKalb Commission voted to de-annex the new city of Doraville that was just incorporated this Dec. 31. It seems that many business owners and residents complained they had had no say or vote in the annexation, and didn't want it since they got nothing but higher taxes from it. 


Caveat emptor, Druid Hills.

bu2
bu2

@OriginalProf 

Actually they were just de-annexing a small addition to Doraville.  Doraville has been around a while.  That still has to go through the state legislature.  The article I read didn't indicate whether it was probable or not that it would happen.  Seems kind of silly until the Tucker/LaVista Hills matters get resolved.  If they pass, that area will really be isolated as far as unincorporated DeKalb.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@bu2 @OriginalProf 

Thanks for the background. It doesn't involve me personally, but this entire issue of new cities and annexations interests me.

pierre1852
pierre1852

Many of the advocates for annexation seem to think APS--a system every bit as entrenched, ideological and meddling as DCSS--is going to let the Druid Hills community have their nice little oasis of privilege and keep their hands off facilities like Fernbank and DHHS.  They're deluded in this belief.  The fantasy of many annexation advocates is to have middle and high school populations that draw from the typical Fernbank demographic.  They envision APS happily and compliantly handing them lashings of Morningside and Midtown (north of Ponce of course!) kids, because, unlike DeKalb, APS just loves listening to its core constituency and doing exactly what they ask of them!  Especially if they're assertive, entitled newcomers! But how else is a facility like DHHS (which holds about 1200 students) going to be filled and therefore be economically feasible for APS under the new arrangements, since only about 20% of current students would be eligible to go there under the annexation proposal?

I would suggest that, like DeKalb, entrenched, ideological and meddling APS is going to stress diversity and access--as they should--and make the attendance zone stretch right across Ponce from north to south.  In the end, the "new" DHHS will look pretty much like Grady High, which looks pretty much like...DHHS looks right now.  The annexation crowd won't be too happy with that either.  So all this wrenching change that might come about, introduced in the name of a few wealthy and bruised egos, will end up changing very little at all.

TheDeal2
TheDeal2

@pierre1852 They aren't trying to get away from diversity.  They are trying to get away from DCSD.

InDebtForDowntownDeKalb
InDebtForDowntownDeKalb

Here's a proposal, why don't the areas not currently in the proposed annexation map organize to have themselves added to the map? DeKalb can't even agree on an internal auditor, notwithstanding the multiple abuses documented by the AJC, the suspended CEO waiting to be retried on state corruption charges, a Dunwoody commissioner indicted by the feds, and a former super who was canned only after his indictment on state charges was imminent or filed (again waiting on retrial or re-sentencing). APS cleaned house top to bottom and brought in national stature talent, with the help of an effective business community and professional local government, following the Beverly Hall cheating debacle.  We can't say the same for DeKalb, which is searching for its 5th superintendent in five years. It's widely accepted yet not stated that Emory and the CDC prefer to be part of the professional, national platform that is Atlanta. Atlanta pays its teachers more, spends more per pupil, and appears to be a heck of a lot more responsive to its neighborhoods (schools and otherwise) than DeKalb, V Jones, B Ellis, or M Thurmond has ever been to the engaged communities of Avondale, Briar Vista, Fernbank, Laurel Ridge, or McLendon. DeKalb repeatedly has deflected, quashed, or given the middle finger to any real community input.from these neighborhoods.  That's why the Museum School exists and the charter cluster garnered so much participation and support. DeKalb County, schools or county government, has never paid much attention to central DeKalb.  All of these neighborhoods would be on a much more positive path within the city of Atlanta, with more accountability from the business community and the press, and better services and schools for its citizens.

bu2
bu2

@InDebtForDowntownDeKalb 

Sounds like haven't read this blog much if you associate professional and responsive with APS.  There's not much difference.


And the business community fought tooth and nail to keep the cheating scandal under wraps.  The Chamber of Commerce is the worst part of being part of Atlanta.

HowdyJune
HowdyJune

Why does Druid Hills want to leave Dekalb County?  Why have the State representatives from Dunwoody and Brookhaven introduced legislation to form their own school systems?  Why do Lavista Hills and Tucker want to form their own cities?  Has anyone from the Dekalb County School System sat down with these communities to attempt to find a solution?  Why does this school board continue to be so divided?  Why is this school system at odds with SACS?  Why cant it not find more than one firm to conduct a search for its next superintendent?  Why has it waited so long to even begin the search process?  Why has Dekalb County spent so much money on lawyers to fight the State, to fight its teachers, to fight Druid Hills, to fight its contractors?  Why does this school system not seek the support of the State, of the business community, of its elected representatives, or of its people?  Why can't this school system have a civil conversation, listen to the other side, and understand what their concerns are?


Why?  

bu2
bu2

I think the author hit it on the head.  This is an emotional, poorly thought out, knee-jerk reaction.


As others have pointed out, the teachers are employees of DeKalb schools.  APS will hire who they wish to hire.  And many of the teachers, for benefits reasons, may feel they need to stay in DeKalb.  So the staff of the schools that move will be torn apart.


Further, the 20% of DHHS will be something like 70% White and only 10% Black.  As race conscious as APS is, I can't imagine them allowing a HS to be formed with those ratios.  It might well be the whole population gets shipped down to Maynard Jackson HS which APS is working hard to improve.  And the Briar Vista people like their Montessori program and Fernbank likes their IB.  There's no guarantee those stay under APS.  And what seems likely, since the new Fernbank will hold 900 students and there are only 840 students combined between the 2 schools that live in the zone, Briar Vista, a very old building, may well be closed, or at least re-purposed.  Maybe DHHS gets used as a middle school to relieve Sutton.


There are a lot of things APS could do that would make the situation worse.  These TIA people just have a lot of wishful thinking.

MattReads
MattReads

I am curious why Together in Atlanta, the group behind the annexation effort, is not mentioned in the the lead-up to Mr. Bodnar's letter?

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Govt run public schools are a monopoly.  And they act like a monopoly.  In the end, the most important thing to them is to save the eduacracy.  Teachers come in a distant second.  Somewhere way after that in the priority scheme comes students and then parents.  Taxpayers are a necessary evil.  


Thank goodness many individual teachers actually put their kids first.  


Because if it was up to the eduacracy, it would be like dealing with Comcast.  Of course, at least then, the taxpayers and parents would revolt, and we would end up with the ability to move our students (and their funding) to a school that actually fits their learning style, and helps them succeed.


"Lose their funding"....wow, those words scare the eduacracy more than any others.  Way more than "we failed our students".  Because if they fail their students, at least they still have cushy back office jobs.  And that's really what's important.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Ok, I don't live in the Dekalb area, so someone tell me--why would the annexation include only 20% of the current DHHS students?  Why wouldn't the annexed area include  ALL of the area and its feeders, which i understand would be all the area that would have been part of the charter cluster?  Is that area housing the 80% unavailable for some reason for annexation?


And why would the 20% "get" the building that now houses the 100%?


And, I have to wonder, is it the teachers who make this so great, or is it the ambitious, caring parents of all SES levels?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady 

I believe that many who now go to DHHS are not residents of Druid Hills but come from other districts, often because the schools in their own are not as good as those in Druid Hills. Druid Hills is a plush, upper middle-class area whose residents pay rather high property taxes, which of course is one major reason for their superior schools.  Some of the districts that the other students come from do not have as high a business or personal tax base as Druid Hills proper, which includes CDC and Emory ...Atlanta may not want to annex them. (Both annexer and annexee have to agree, of course.)

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady @OriginalProf 

I'm sure that there will be replacements for the 80%!  (Remember that Druid Hills is now in DeKalb County, and APS is in Fulton County. So other DeKalbites could transfer in before.  But if it is annexed into APS, it will be in Fulton County and Fultonites [Fultonians?] will swarm in then.)


As I recall, you've posted that you live in NW rural Georgia, so you may not know local politics here. But many DH residents have long resented that their high property taxes pay for schools into which other DeKalb students may transfer from poorer and less-prepared districts that pay considerably lower property taxes. This entire annexation issue, including that of the attempted charter schools that were denied by the DeKalb Superintendent Thurmond, seems to me to include many elements of class tension just below the surface.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Wascatlady No, a portion of the City of Atlanta is in DeKalb County - and so would the annexed area. Kids from APS could transfer to Druid Hills I suppose.

bu2
bu2

@Wascatlady @OriginalProf 


The proposed annexation only includes the zones for Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary.  It does not include Laurel Ridge, Avondale, McLendon or the Museum School.  Those other schools contribute most of the students of Druid Hills HS.  Avondale and McLendon are almost 100% African American, so the remaining population would be something in the vicinity of 70% White and 10% African American with the rest Asian and Hispanic.


The reason for this is that a small self-appointed group, that as of a couple of weeks ago, had never even met among themselves except by e-mail, decided that was the area they wanted to get annexed.


As for who gets the school building, the pro-annexation group believe precedent is on their side that the building goes to the new district in an annexation without reimbursement to the prior district.  However, those precedents probably don't fit this situation and others (for example the city of Decatur) don't believe the schools follow annexation.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@To all, Several of you have mentioned allowing newly formed Georgia cities to start their own school systems -- that would take a constitutional amendment and I am not sure it would carry in many parts of Georgia.

But I am also unsure fledgling cities are ready to add schools to their plates. The AJC has a good piece today on the growing pains in the metro area's newest municipalities;

The story notes:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found numerous problems among the growing ranks of metro Atlanta’s new cities, from Johns Creek to Brookhaven, Dunwoody to Sandy Springs. Elected leaders have faced complaints that they steered city business to relatives and campaign donors, accepted gifts and favors barred by ethics codes, spent too freely on salaries or dreamed up mega-dollar development deals that many constituents didn’t want.

  • Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker took a free vacation and rented a townhome from a developer and campaign contributor, then voted favorably on his zoning request.
  • A family member of Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis secured a $28,000 renovation contract with the city.
  • A Brookhaven councilman’s top campaign donors quickly won city work, and another councilman faced complaints that he routinely conducted private business at City Hall.
  • The impulse to smaller government sometimes turns into grand civic dreams once a city is born. Sandy Springs, the first in the wave of new cities, now plans a $100 million city center to house government offices, a performing arts center and shops.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@MaureenDowney Compared to Dekalb and Atlanta, that's like throwing chewing gum on the sidewalk.  

Starik
Starik

@MaureenDowney I'd expect growing pains, and the creation of new cities isn't the solution for every problem...but your kids go to school in Decatur, which is insulated from the problems with the DeKalb school system.  Why shouldn't other parts of DeKalb have the same privilege?

JamesNicholas
JamesNicholas

I think that each of the new cities or groups of cities created in Fulton and DeKalb should be given the right to create their own school districts. When consolidation into county school districts happened in the 1950's cities were given the choice of creating or keeping their own independent districts. Marietta, Buford, and others are examples. Its only fair and logical that new cities have the same option . As for Druid Hills only having 20% of the student body of DHHS in its proposed boundaries, that's because most of the black student attend what was once Avondale HS. It is south of Avondale near Memorial Dr and is a DHHS annex. Otherwise they would not be part of the DHHS cluster. Leave them where they are and make it Avondale HS again. And by the way that teachers dream of diversity is his. Its not shared by the vast majority of Americans that choose to live in more homogenous neighborhoods to be around people like themselves. That includes blacks too who live mostly in black neighborhoods by choice.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

"As a result; other courses of action were pursued to gain independence from DeKalb County Schools."


What the clueless teacher fails to mention is that the DeKalb County schools are a joke.  Heck, the governor had to step in for the clowns to maintain accreditation

Teresa1313
Teresa1313

@MiltonMan No one would disagree with you about the governor stepping in.  What you speak of is what happened with the board and what goes on at the "Palace".  But, DeKalb County at the schoolhouse level are filled with determined, dedicated and awesome educators.  It's not fair to lump them into what you are calling a joke.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Need a video of crabs in a bucket - and how they react when one tries to climb out (you know...better themselves).  Everyone else reaches up and pulls them back down.  


You know, because the rest will be "left behind".  Can't have a few get out, since it's not fair.  Such a sick POV.  And from folks who think they are actually caring individuals.  


How about if we rejoice at the oppty to help at least some, rather than hold everyone back because we can't figure out how to motivate the kids who don't give a crap about learning.  No, I guess that just "wouldn't be fair".  So consign everyone to failure.  

I'm sure that's a much more compassionate approach.  Sick.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@OriginalProf @dcdcdc Yeah, they are really "keeping the other crabs down"....you know, the ones who aren't actually trying to get out of the bucket.  seriously?  Do you think before you write this?  


I guess you are one of those who would rather we dont' help any kids - since we can't magically get those who don't care to care....keep them all stuck in the same hexxhole, even the ones who really want to succeed.  So compassionate.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@dcdcdc @OriginalProf 

I was thinking of your literal metaphor, so commonly used. I think that the crabs being stepped on by the one crab trying to get out are acting reflexively. 

And I also think that, yes, the question of what to do with the other crabs is a real one. Not all of them "don't care to care." What do you do with the students who can't get into the charter school, but whose own public school now has less money because that charter school has siphoned tax-funds away? Who wouldn't have a source of transportation to get to the charter school anyway? Or whose parents work 2-3 jobs and so can't afford to help out as charter schools require?


What do you do with the crabs left behind?

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @dcdcdc The crabs in the lower half of the barrel live in a world that is hard to imagine unless you have experience with the territory they live on; it's a toxic mud flat, not a beach. A significant portion of the crabs have parents who can't read, have addiction problems, and can't hold a job.  They "get by."  They don't work, but they still get money.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@OriginalProf @dcdcdc You mean the crabs that don't want to get out?  Well that's obvious.  You make sure that the ones who do want to get out and better themselves aren't given the oppty.........(I know you don't think that way, but sadly so many do).


So to answer your real question - the ones who are left in the current schools are no worse off, while we've given the ones who want to succeed, a chance to.  And re the "schools have less money"....I'm missing that point there.  They also have less kids to educate.  But have the same amount "per student".  Like any enterprise, they just have to cut their overhead to match the new size. There is zero reason there won't be plenty to educate the remaining students.


Of course, the remaining students (cough cough) no longer have studious kids (you know, the ones who chose to move to a better learning environment) to pick on and make fun of.  I guess in that regard, their day won't be quite as fun for them........  But I think it's worth it ....:)

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@dcdcdc 

That old metaphor of the crabs in a bucket also shows what happens when one crab tries to better itself by stepping on others....

bu2
bu2

@Starik @OriginalProf @dcdcdc 


Your description clearly does not apply to the Medlock/Laurel Ridge area or Avondale Estates.


I sure the other areas wouldn't appreciate that comment either.

Starik
Starik

@bu2 @Starik @OriginalProf @dcdcdc How many kids of school age live in Avondale Estates?  Not many, if any, attend the DeKalb schools. Some do pay tuition to Decatur, though.

Oakland
Oakland

Why not make Druid Hills Middle School the new Druid Hills High School and use the current building being used as the temporary home for Fernbank elementary school  as the new middle school. We're just talking about buildings. Let Druid Hills and Emory University merge into Atlanta.

Threeperros
Threeperros

I hope most of you don't drive cars because many of you seem like to possess road rage personalities.  Public schools are for the public.  I cannot be tailored to fit this or that parents' idea of the perfect education.  That is what private schools are for and there is NO shortage of them in Atlanta.  DHHS and the other schools do NOT belong to a small group of narrow-thinking people and when I say schools I mean all inclusive--teachers, students, buildings.  This whole annexation birth is pure anarchy.  

Starik
Starik

@Threeperros Actually, there is a shortage of private schools in Atlanta - if you're serious about academics and don't want religious indoctrination.

Starik
Starik

What is needed is a vote.  As for the "coach" who wrote the letter...what does he coach?  And what does he "teach?"

JMLancaster
JMLancaster

He was the Middle Schools' Teacher of the Year last year. A phenomenal Social Studies teacher and an outstanding soccer coach.