Druid Hills annexation into Atlanta: ‘An opportunity to join a city on the ascent’

Natalie DiSantis is a past resident of Atlanta who now resides in the unincorporated DeKalb community seeking annexation into Atlanta.

She supports Together In Atlanta, which she calls “a grassroots effort by neighbors in the Emory University area hoping to become part of the robust growth and positive direction of the city of Atlanta.”

Here is her response to an essay on the blog last week opposed to that annexation campaign. Later this week, I will post an essay by a Druid Hills High school student on this issue as well.

What remains to be seen is whether the General Assembly will act on an annexation bill. Because of the divisions in the community, this is a controversial issue that lawmakers may want to duck.

But there is a lot of interest within the community, as this essay indicates.

By Natalie DiSantis

Earlier this week, the Get Schooled blog published a well-written letter by Thomas Bodnar, a teacher at Druid Hills Middle School, regarding the proposed City of Atlanta plan to annex the Druid Hills community.  Mr. Bodnar’s commitment to advocating for his school and students is a shining example of what makes our community special.

Reasonable and thoughtful people who respect each other can, and often do, disagree on issues. Such is the case for Mr. Bodnar and those who are part of the “Together in Atlanta” annexation effort.

It’s tempting to accept wholesale Mr. Bodnar’s position that “a small but vocal minority has perpetuated this course of action largely because original proposals to create an autonomous charter cluster … 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.”

But his position is simply not true and dramatically misrepresents and sells short the many reasons for 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 the Druid Hills community is annexed into the city of Atlanta, an issue is the fate of DeKalb County schools in the affected areas.

The push for annexation is not a response to either the denial of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition or the myriad difficulties that continue to grow within the DeKalb County School District.  It is a thoughtful and reasoned response to the complex challenges facing DeKalb County as a whole.

As far back as August of 2013, as incorporation efforts were aggressively ramping up across the county – well before the charter cluster petition was rejected by the DeKalb Board of Education – concerned Druid Hills residents collected and disseminated information about all the various incorporation and annexation options.  At a town hall meeting attended by nearly 700, many were impressed by the value proposition offered by the City of Atlanta.

Residents – including those without children as well as those with children who are grown, enrolled in private school, or attending DeKalb public schools – formed Together In Atlanta (“TIA”) to advocate for annexation as Druid Hills’ best option to incorporation.  The prioritize joining a city that’s racially and economically diverse, offers better services, and is financially strong.

To be clear, TIA believes:

· Remaining part of unincorporated DeKalb is simply not a viable option. DeKalb County will incorporate. Politicians, from the DeKalb CEO to the statehouse, have recognized that DeKalb’s rebirth and sustainable strength depend on incorporation. Economically, administratively, and operationally, the county can function better with incorporation.

  • Annexation presents an opportunity to join a city on the ascent. Millennials and baby boomers alike are moving back into the City. Kirkwood, Old Fourth Ward, and Cabbagetown have been revitalized. Regional transportation initiatives and MARTA’s renaissance re-invigorate communities and investment in quality infrastructure. Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Morehouse and Spellman have catalyzed change and innovation. There are billion dollar public/private partnerships in the Beltline, Ponce City Market, and surrounding areas.
  • Annexation provides Druid Hills with an opportunity to unite under one local jurisdiction for service delivery. When a neighborhood has split jurisdictions, it creates “Border Zones” that become problematic for emergency response times and other public services.
  • Atlanta offers better services for the money. Atlanta’s fire and police are nationally recognized.  At similar cost to DeKalb County, Atlanta provides over double the police and fire personnel.  Crime in Atlanta is down 20 percent over the past 5 years.
  • The Atlanta City Council offers better representation than the DeKalb County Commission. This is an opportunity to have better representation through Atlanta’s NPU system and a Councilperson who would represent 40,000 rather than a DeKalb Commissioner who represents 140,000.
  • Atlanta has a global brand, as do Emory and the CDC located in the heart of Druid Hills. It is reasonable and productive for the three of them to be together. Geographically, geopolitically and economically, these three entities have more in common and more to gain together than apart. And parts of our community already lie within City of Atlanta lines.

The question of Atlanta Public Schools versus DeKalb County Schools has not been and will not be the driving force behind our annexation efforts.  But our local schools have served as the organizing principle for the proposed annexed territory, which is that neighborhoods and communities are defined most directly by elementary schools – in terms of property value, identities, voluntarism, and childhood friendships.  More importantly, we believe minimizing student disruptions is most important at these early learning stages.

The reality regarding the schools is quite different than that portrayed by Mr. Bodnar:

 

  • The proposed annexation area prioritizes keeping those elementary school communities directly impacted (Briar Vista and Fernbank) intact. TIA sought a plan that would preserve its elementary school zones rather than divide them, while not violating those of other elementary school zones.  There has been no conversation whatsoever seeking to extend the grade levels served by Briar Vista and Fernbank through 8th
  • We agree with Mr. Bodnar that our schools’ diversity is a tremendous asset that should be respected and maintained. In the short run, communities inside the TIA map lose a Middle School, and those outside the map lose a High School.  But we are committed  to advocating for the solution the law provides for; namely, that the 7 schools within the Druid Hills High School cluster can continue to operate together even if Atlanta annexes Druid Hills.
  • Atlanta Public Schools offers considerable advantages to DeKalb County Schools that make annexation a compelling opportunity. Specifically, they pay their teachers more, they spend more on their students, and they maintain lower teacher-student ratios.

Drawing the lines and providing a transparent process and time period for education on all the facts, followed by a vote according to the annexation/new city formation statutes is a healthy method to assess the will of the people. These issues should be decided on the ballot, not in the back rooms, on blogs, or in chat rooms.

Reader Comments 0

117 comments
QuintEssential
QuintEssential

The tide has turned in my Druid Hills neighborhood after realization Kassim Reed is as much of a snake as anyone else (Arthur Blank stadium, bond referendum, etc.) Most people I've seen at meetings no longer want annexation.

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

A city on the "ascent"? Ha. Guess she hasn't heard that the City On the ASCENT has a moron for a mayor who took millions from the school system as a loan and won't pay it back...
and...
and is holding the deeds to schools hostage. He won't allow their sale.
The "super star" superintendent is hiring more and more consultants, has spent the emergency fund and run through all the money even though APS has record revenues.

ASCENT?

Nah.

DeKalb County is a wretched mess or corruption, greed, theft and graft and Atlanta is its fiscal nightmarish twin.   

Cere
Cere

@Starik @Betsy Ross1776 I really like this article by Bill Torpy. Actually, I am a fan of Bill's reporting in general... But this article shows us that (hopefully) we are about to be dragged screaming and kicking into a time period where there really is racial and ethnic balance in neighborhoods and people see each other for the content of their character - and voters vote for the person most qualified and with whom they mostly agree on issues that effect the community - not for the one that most looks like them. It will be uncomfortable for some, but personally I can't wait for that day to be so complete that no one even thinks about racial issues anymore!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

One might say that the issue here is not, as with the original 13 colonies, "No taxation without representation," but rather, "No representation without taxation."

give_em_the_bird
give_em_the_bird

Druid Hills ... Atlanta just wants your $$$$$$$$.  Run like hell from Atlanta.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I'm not a resident of Druid Hills, so I won't be able to vote for or against any annexation. I can see positives and negatives on both sides. But I do think that the law should be followed: a formal hearing to explore the pros and cons, and then a formal vote by the residents who will be the ones to experience the consequences. Whether or not the schools involved should follow the annexation and leave out the present 80% of outside students, that is what is evidently what is going to happen  Let people vote according to what will happen, not what should happen.

bu2
bu2

@m2ap @OriginalProf 

In fact, Decatur officials told people at a meeting in Medlock that they believed the schools (if Decatur annexed) would remain property of the DeKalb County School system and would not become owned by Decatur schools.


I doubt any of the precedents included a school where 80% of the students lived outside the zone annexed.  And I am sure none of the precedents involved a $25 million school just built and funded by an ongoing SPLOST.


And the reality is that it would most likely be decided by the legislature, not the courts.  There is no telling what the legislature would do.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@m2ap @OriginalProf 

I meant, "follow the law" by taking a vote among the residents to decide--not  informal "surveys" or "polls."  And given all of the conflicting readings expressed here, a hearing first (with a lawyer present? an APS School Board member or even the Superintendent?) seems essential.


Or maybe a postponement of the entire annexation proposal until the schools issue can be settled legally?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @OriginalProf @m2ap 

 Since the proposal is now under consideration by the legislature, they would be the ones to do any postponement. I gather that what they have right now is a proposal, nothing more....no formal petitions or referendum.

m2ap
m2ap

@OriginalProf Actually both sides are looking at the legal issue as to whether the schools go with the annexation because the law is not as clear as TIA makes it out to be and objective legal minds outside of Marshall Orson and TIA have disagreed with that position.  So your "follow the law" idea is not as cut and dry as it seems.  Parents of school-aged kids in the annexation area also need to know if they are voting to go into an already overcrowded APS with the schools or not, and that legal issue may not be decided for a very long time.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@OriginalProf @m2ap


"Or maybe a postponement of the entire annexation proposal until the schools issue can be settled legally?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Prudent idea.

TribePride
TribePride

@OriginalProf That's the crux of the problem for many, whether they are in or out of the current map - exactly what WILL happen with respect to schools? Too many have painted a rosy scenario without having any grounding or actual support from APS.

PoliticParallelUniverse
PoliticParallelUniverse

The author writes, "the push for annexation is not a response to either the denial of DHCC petition," yet TIA was not formed until immediately following the denial and the leadership is the same. She also writes, "it is a thoughtful and reasoned response," yet no one knows what will happen with schools, what exactly makes a map, what specific services will be provided, what happens with the HOST exemption, how will seniors be able to make up the significant tax increase, when TIA actually meets and with whom, and how the remaining school system will fare with a significantly reduced tax digest. The author also fails to identify her representation of Emory's position, which is not the position of some 70% of DH's own survey respondents who lean not sure to definitely no. So yes, it is a push based on the denial. Further, the current annexation proposal is not a thoughtful and reasoned approach. And, Emory should consider backing off on pushing this vote so quickly and work to help protect the high school cluster where so many of their employee's families live.

TheDeal2
TheDeal2

@m2ap @whocaresaboutpolitics What a thoughtful and professionally-written letter.  I wish our superintendent could produce this type of communication, or even possess the desire to communicate with students and families impacted by any decision.  Looks like TiA could head to a place that values competent, literate leadership and can overcome embarrassing and criminal activities, unlike DeKalb.

m2ap
m2ap

@TheDeal2 @m2ap @whocaresaboutpolitics  Except for the fact that the reason TIA wants to take the schools with them to Atlanta is for local control, which looks like isn't going to happen...

bu2
bu2

@m2ap @whocaresaboutpolitics 

So now TIA is disrupting Atlanta residents, not just Druid Hills, Briar Vista, Medlock, Avondale, Laurel Ridge, etc., etc.....

Cere
Cere

Regarding the question as to whether Emory, etc was on board with the Druid Hills annexation, I found this Jan 12, 2015 AJC article (an interview with Decatur Mayor Floyd): http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/floyd-druid-hills-annexation-has-the-best-shot/njmYd/

In a recent interview with the AJC former Decatur mayor Bill Floyd said he believes, of the various annexation and new-city movements, Druid Hills into Atlanta has the best chance of passing the state legislature.

“It’s got some powerful forces behind it, including [Atlanta Mayor] Kasim Reed, Emory and the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association,” said Floyd, now the Director of the DeKalb Municipal Association.

Sanitsyrest
Sanitsyrest

I'm really tired of all the different "reasons" and excuses Together in Atlanta keeps inventing. It's clear they are a small group of people who simply didn't get their way -- and it's increasingly clear that there was good reason for that. I could not in good conscience support them and I don't see how any thinking person could either.

Just_Blink
Just_Blink

@Sasnitsyrest 

I live in the target zone, and yes you can continue to characterize it as a small group of people who didn't get their way, but that is far from the truth on the ground.  I would challenge any "thinking person" on this blog to tell me what's great about living in Dekalb.  It's a failing enterprise.  It's being splintered apart by all the pending cityhood and annexation initiatives so whats a person to do?  Do you continue to play the game of musical chairs, hoping by chance you are not left without a chair when the music stops, or do you take action.


And for all those pro-Dekalb county, anti-change  supporters who say lets stop the music and band together to fix our problems together.  Watch the Dekalb County BOE  business meeting and tell me there aren't problems, when just getting to the starting gate of launching a superintendent search is problematic.  I have never seen more jockeying and political maneuvering around the parameters for the community liaison committee in my life.  There are problems...and they don't appear to be going away soon.


So let's put it to a vote....and let the will of the reasonable people decide.








redweather
redweather

@Just_Blink @Sasnitsyrest  In other words, everyone who disagrees with you is being unreasonable.  That is the oldest gambit of all.  Attack the messenger.

m2ap
m2ap

@Just_Blink @Sasnitsyrest  That's fine -- if the TIA zone wants to go into Atlanta.  But instead, the aim is to take the rest of the county's schools with them.  It's one thing if all the cluster was in the annexation zone.  Go to Atlanta.  Leave the schools.

3RsMom
3RsMom

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..

Teacher Reader
Teacher Reader

@3RsMom How many of those students actually live in that attendance area?  Briar Vista and Fernbank both have students from around the district. They are not limited to students in their attendance zone.  These students would be displaced if the annexation were to take place.

bu2
bu2

@Teacher Reader @3RsMom 


About 200 of the roughly 1050 students at the two schools don't live in the attendance zone.

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

For the life of me, I can't understand why the people of Druid Hills think throwing in with APS would be better than DCCS. Any mention of the APS cheating debacle is absent in Ms. DiSantis' letter. Is this something the Druid Hills folks are willing to turn a blind eye to simply because they're not happy with DCSS?


And as for services? I moved from Kirkwood (City of Atlanta) to unincorporated Dekalb and my services improved greatly as a result. My trash is never missed, and if I call the police they usually respond within 10-30 minutes (longest wait was 60 minutes), even for low-priority calls. In City of Atlanta, there were times the police didn't respond at all for low-priority calls. There may be more officers on the beat, but that doesn't mean they're available when you call if they're tied up with higher-priority calls.


It seems to me that Druid Hills is trying to jump from the frying pan directly into the fire. With enough pressure on Dekalb to shape up or lose revenue, change may be brought about. But if Druid Hills does join APS, I would imagine it's going to be a heck of lot harder to separate from them down the line if they don't like the results.

Bernie31
Bernie31

@atln8tiv - My Friend these Annex suporters have NO INTENT and ZERO desire to Join in, Partner with, or be a Part of anything APS nor The City of Atlanta. 


This is the Bottom Line of this LOT....HAND US a SIGNED  BLANK CHECK for Our Childrens's Schools and Education and Walk AWAY!

We do not want any oversight, input or influence from APS or Atlanta City Government. 

For this DEMAND, We are ONLY wiling to PAY our "FAIR SHARE" of TAXES and Pay OFF any Political Foe that opposes this DEAL and that is ALL! 


If we need to provide free  VIP Tickets along with VIP parking with FOOD for Sports,Concerts, Shows and what ever entertainment event they desire. We are willing to oblige without question.


Just let US know Where,When and How many Guests will be attending.


Thank-You Very much for your cooperation.

Just_Blink
Just_Blink

@atln8tiv I have lived both in ATL and now in unincorporated Dekalb.  Services are good on both sides...with minor hiccups here and there.  Big picture ATL is sustainable, Dekalb County unless they change their ways is a train-wreck.



m2ap
m2ap

@Cere @Bernie31 @atln8tiv And anyone who thinks Atlanta is any better need only look at the front page of the AJC reporting on the APS cheating trial going on as we speak.  And we all remember Bill Campbell.

bu2
bu2

@m2ap @Cere @Bernie31 @atln8tiv 


Or the reporting on the theft in the water department.


They don't even know for certain if the annexed area would stay with DeKalb water and sewer or join Atlanta with the highest rates in the nation.  They think it would stay with DeKalb, but absolutely nothing about this is certain.

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

@Cere @atln8tiv True, but the letter states that they would be serviced by CoA. Kirkwood is also in Dekalb county but their services are provided by Atlanta.

Cere
Cere

@Bernie31 @atln8tiv ps - it was fomer DeKalb schools superintendent Crawford Lewis who was indicted on charges of racketeering and who in the end ratted out [sort of] his COO and her architect husband in order to escape without a trial for himself. One thing he was charged with was taking VIP game tickets (basketball, Masters, football, etc) as 'bribes'.

Cere
Cere

@atln8tiv FWIW, Druid Hills will still be in DeKalb county...

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

@Just_Blink @atln8tiv I agree, but I'm not sure incorporating into Atlanta is going to be a positive move for Druid Hills in the long run.  

bu2
bu2

As for schools:

220 students in the proposed annexation zone would lose their choice schools in DeKalb.  DCSS just has a more extensive program than Atlanta.

Over 200 students at Briar Vista and Fernbank who don't live in the attendance zone would no longer be eligible to attend.

All the teachers would lose their jobs and have to re-apply.  Atlanta would not hire exactly the same staff.  There's no telling how many (if even any) of the same teachers would stay.


So the statement that Briar Vista and Fernbank would be intact is totally untrue.  And another example of this proposal not being well thought out.


The idea of keeping the cluster intact is not realistic, especially over more than a transition period.  The cluster IS together now, but would not be under this proposal.


TIA has mainly emphasized the school issue.  To say schools are not a major issue contradicts what they have been saying in the past.  Its not the only issue, but it was the driving force.


Reality is, as Alex Wan, Atlanta city councilman and other government officials have pointed out, no one knows what would happen with the schools or the school attendance zones.  Noone knows what would happen with the teachers.  They're trying to roll the dice with a lot of kids futures and hoping it comes out better.


And while I have no doubt what the author says about the advantages of APS schools is true, in the last numbers I saw, APS had lower graduation rates and lower scores than DeKalb County despite spending more money.

Hung Dong
Hung Dong

@bu2 But nobody knows what will happen to the schools, attendance areas, teachers, school choice students, etc, if there if these areas don't annex into Atlanta either.  To say that things stay the same one way and different another is to ignore the fact that this cluster is malleable, that demographics change (current baby boom ongoing in Druid Hills right now), and that the fortunes of both the city and county are always in flux.  


I get the metaphor about rolling the dice, but there is no way not to role the dice.  Deciding to stay in Dekalb is still a dice roll.  


Our neighborhood started discussing annexation in 2012, or at least that is the first time I remember.  The first time I heard about the charter cluster (which I still don't understand totally) was 2014.  I put the school district issue at the bottom of a list of reasons for my motivation to go into Atlanta.

bu2
bu2

@Cere @bu2 

TIA claims APS is better.  The results say otherwise.  You pay more and don't get any better results.

bu2
bu2

This is not a reasoned or thought out proposal.  It is not totally separate from the charter cluster.  Matt Lewis led the charter cluster and then wrote a nasty, emotional, poorly thought out letter withdrawing the charter petition saying much of the leadership wanted to pursue joining the city of Atlanta.  TIA never had any public meetings, unlike all the cities that want to annex areas and Tucker and LaVista Hills/Lakeside Briarcliff who have all had many.  Its a small group self-appointing itself as spokepeople for an area.


As for her claims about Atlanta:

Ascension-Well if you consider that the last two mayors haven't been thrown in jail or that the city is no longer on the verge of bankruptcy as it was when the current mayor took office, I guess you could call that ascension.

Viable option-Its not clear if LaVista Hills or Tucker will pass (or even get out of the legislature).  And even if they do, that doesn't mean DeKalb County isn't viable or that LaVista Hills might not look like a good option in a few years.

Unite services-Druid Hills has been split for decades without this being an issue.  And as some of it is already in the city of Decatur, the area will never be united under one entity.

Global Brand-Why is this relevant?

Representation-Can't really disagree with this, but 2 of the DeKalb County commissioners do live in Druid Hills.

Services-For almost all of Druid Hills, taxes will be much higher.  Garbage service will be reduced to once a week.  And those police don't seem to help much.  The violent crime rate is 13.03 vs. 2.09 in the mailing address of Decatur (from Northlake to South DeKalb) and the property crime is 65.07 vs. 35.20.  And all of the recent crime waves hitting Druid Hills seem to start from the city of Atlanta, hitting Kirkwood or Candler Park first.  The city of Atlanta is where people head for drugs.  The police know it.  But they haven't succeeded in stopping it.

Cere
Cere

@bu2 I agree -- If Druid Hills had any sense, they would join a new cityhood movement like Lavista Hills and then advocate to be allowed to form their own, smaller city school district.  A tough row to hoe, of course, but not insurmountable.  And in reality, unstoppable.

Starik
Starik

@bu2 Taxes in DeKalb are going nowhere but up as the tax base erodes and the need for services grow.  The days of twice a week trash collection are numbered.  This is not a question of City v. County, but race, and the crime statistics are race based. Want drugs?  Go to the Bluff.  Want a place to burglarize profitably?  Visit affluent areas, black or white; they're the best place to get paid.

bu2
bu2

@Just_Blink @bu2 


As a resident, what difference does "Global Brand" mean if you live in Sandy Springs (or Brookhaven or Dunwoody or LaVista Hills) instead of Atlanta?  Absolutely zero.

Starik
Starik

@bu2 @Just_Blink Atlanta, with its airport, is an engine for the creation of growth and good jobs. We may be past the model of the poor, crime ridden inner city here. We'll see. I recently visited Detroit, and the downtown area is coming back there as well.

Just_Blink
Just_Blink

@bu2 To your question about Global Brand why is it relevant?


Ask yourself if you were in charge to relocate the US base for a large multinational enterprise that would bring 100's of jobs to the target community and did a quick Google search comparing Atlanta vs Dekalb County....how do you think your PowerPoint presentation would look?

EducationForAll
EducationForAll

"But we are committed  to advocating for the solution the law provides for; namely, that the 7 schools within the Druid Hills High School cluster can continue to operate together even if Atlanta annexes Druid Hills."

I wonder how TIA proposes that this will work.  Any intergovernmental agreement is a pipe dream.  Both representative of Atlanta and DeKalb have made this clear.


Also, if TIA thinks that annexation will not cause distributions for students (either those annexed or those left behind), they are dreaming.  Atlanta Councilman Alex Wan has made it clear that all of the teachers, administrators, and staff at the annexed schools would need to apply for jobs in APS and they would all be at the bottom of the seniority scale.  All of the annexed schools would likely have very different communities.  Also, given the overcrowding in surrounding APS schools, redistricting would be inevitable down the road.