Will Atlanta and DeKalb end up feuding over annexation and schools?

With Emory and the CDC about to be annexed into the city of Atlanta, a debate is erupting over the fate of the school attendance lines.

The proposed annexation of Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into the city of Atlanta will leave 9 or 10 public school students in limbo. Will those students remain in DeKalb County schools or move to Atlanta Public Schools?

Despite the small number of schoolchildren impacted by the annexation, there is a great of angst over the resolution of school attendance. That’s because some in DeKalb worry larger ambitions may be at play here. While Emory and the CDC are the focus today, could the entire Druid Hills neighborhood be the next annexation candidate? If so, how would that affect the well-regarded DeKalb schools within the Druid Hills neighborhood and the children who attend them?

The city of Atlanta has favored expansion of its borders without a concomitant expansion of the Atlanta school district.

As the AJC’s Mark Niesse reported last week:

The fate of the annexation proposal might come down to school district boundaries for just nine public school students who live in the area, along with $2.3 million in property tax revenue for education.

The incorporation of Emory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta would be the largest addition to the city since it annexed Buckhead 65 years ago.

The Atlanta City Council could vote on the 744-acre Emory annexation as soon as Nov. 6 — the day before the election. If passed next month, the annexation would take effect Dec. 1. The Council voted 13-0 on Monday to approve a settlement with DeKalb County that resolves objections over fire services and zoning.

But disagreements between city and county school systems remain. Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has said the school system should expand along with the city, saying she wants “to ensure that the students and families served by APS also get to participate in that growth.”

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green said Carstarphen’s request to change the school system overlooked the impact on students and their families who live at Villa International, which primarily houses foreign researchers working at Emory and the CDC.

“Though limited to a handful of children, you have suggested these children be switched to APS schools without regard to whether this is the best solution,” Green wrote in an Oct. 12 letter to Carstarphen.

Carstarphen has fueled even more discussion with her statements a few days ago on annexation. As AJC reporter Vanessa McCray wrote:

“We anticipate that the public and the community will understand that we are a district that wants to grow with our city. We don’t want to be a separate entity, and we want to do a good job for people who live here today and anyone who wants to come into the city in the future,” said Meria Carstarphen.

Carstarphen dismissed the notion that APS’ stance has held up the annexation vote by city council.  “I don’t think it has anything to do with APS. They have their process. I respect it, but we’ve made it clear we have charter rights to grow in a coterminous fashion with the city,” she said.

DeKalb school board member Marshall Orson has been wary of annexation and its possible impact on DeKalb schools. He’s been voicing those concerns on Facebook, especially in light of Carstarphen’s comments:

In a stunning declaration after her State of the System address last Friday, APS Supt. Meria Carstarphen declared that a major reason that the Emory annexation should include a change of school district boundaries is because APS “ha[s] charter rights.”

No mention of what is in the best interests of the children directly affected. No concern about the ongoing impact on the 102,000 students of DeKalb if these annexations continue and follow her approach. No remorse that she elevates politics and power over the welfare of children.

Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum (and I put myself squarely in the progressive camp), I hope that we all find her comment chilling — when a government official elevates the “rights” of a government over the interests of its people, we should all be concerned. I hope that my colleagues on the APS Board of Education quickly and loudly denounce this assertion by Supt. Carstarphen. I hope that the Atlanta City Council continues to be judicious in its decision about the Emory annexation and the long-term implications for children in DeKalb — by passing the ordinance as proposed so that the children directly affected now, and the multitudes of others who may be caught up in future annexations, are allowed to maintain their relationships with their schools. I hope that the APS Supt. does not intend to continue to use DeKalb’s children as pawns in a political battle of her own making and that wisdom prevails over her short-term political agenda that does not place front and center the interests of our most valuable resource – our children.

Orson’s comments sparked debate over whether it was fair to fault Carstarphen for what seems a natural conclusion: If the city of Atlanta grows through annexation, shouldn’t the school district that serves the city grow with it?

Does Carstarphen’s contention that the school system must grow with the city undermine annexation? Consider the potential annexation of the Druid Hills neighborhood. Residents may see benefits to joining the city but not the school system. (Those residents now send their kids to high-performing DeKalb schools. The nearby APS schools are also strong, but overcrowded even now.)

The question that Carstarphen’s position prompts: If the Emory annexation veers from the approach originally represented —  school district boundaries would not be changed  —  will that cause residents who want their kids to continue in their current districts and schools to oppose future annexations?

This issue is complex, emotional and political. Any thoughts on it?

Reader Comments 0

Kate Schuessler
Kate Schuessler

Has this been widely distributed? Public Meeting Notice There will be a meeting of the arbitration panel created to hear the objection raised by DeKalb County to the City of Atlanta’s proposed annexation of approximately 744 acres encompassing Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other land owners pursuant to the 100% method of annexation. The purpose of the meeting is for the panel to adopt the City and County’s written agreement governing the annexation as the panel’s findings and recommendations, as provided for in O.C.G.A. § 36-36-119. This meeting is open to the public. Date and Time Thursday, November 2, 2017, at 11:00 AM Purpose and Location Annexation Arbitration Atlanta City Hall 55 Trinity Avenue, Committee Room 2 Atlanta, Georgia 30303


Either you have city school districts or you don't.  In Texas, with more liberal annexation laws, schools districts are independent of cities and aren't impacted by changes in city lines.  Here we have a number of city districts.  It seems strange to change it all for 9 or 10 students.  Now the annexation could be delayed for the school district to allow students time to finish at their school or relocate.  Decatur Schools delayed annexation of an area (think it was Parkwood) for a year after city of Decatur annexed them.  Druid Hills is a separate issue from the school district for these 9 or 10 students.


10 students would leave DeKalb schools and go to APS and APS would get $2.3 million in property tax revenue for education? —I think that sums up Carstarphen's concerns / interests right there. 


In just the last three months, Dekalb has lost six EXCELLENT administrators to other school districts:

(1) Brittany Cunningham, soon to be former Principal of Druid Hills High School, was named Atlanta Public School's Director of Testing and Assessment.

(2) Jamie L. Wilson, formerly a Principal at Livsey Elementary School at DeKalb County Schools, was named Clayton County School's Chief Human Resources Officer

(3) Twana Culberson Bowman, formerly a Special Education Lead Teacher at DeKalb County Schools, was named Clayton County School's Coordinator of Special Education in the department of Student Services

(4) Denise Hall, formerly a Dispatch and Customer Service Supervisor at DeKalb County Schools, was named Clayton County School's Coordinator of Transportation 

(5) Dr. Sandra Nunez, formerly a Director of English Learners’ Program and DeKalb International Welcome Center at DeKalb County School District was named Clayton County School's Deputy Superintendent – Student Services & Federal Programs

(6) Dr. Ralph Simpson, formerly a Regional Superintendent with DeKalb County Schools, was named Clayton County School's Deputy Superintendent -School Leadership & Improvement

Has Mr. Orson expressed any concerns about this sudden loss of leadership within his school system? Is the school board even aware that so many of Dekalb's most talented school leaders have suddenly abandoned ship?



You never cared much about Dr. Simpson, especially after the book incident several years ago.  It is curious that you mentioned him.
Everyone has the opportunity to move up in their career.  In education, one sometimes has to change school districts to do so.  Do you begrudge these individuals for doing just that?
I thank these individuals for their service, wish them well in their new roles and look forward to the opportunities created for others by their departures.


There seems to be a legal issue and voter rights issue involved in this potential annexation expanding the City but not the school system. If the city expands, residents of the newly annexed area will be entitled to vote for City officials. But if the school system does not expand, will they be able to vote for Atlanta school board members who have no authority over the schools their kids attend? Or would they continue to vote for DeKalb school board members who actually govern the schools their kids attend?

The Charter of the Atlanta Public Schools system makes the district served by each Atlanta Board of Education member coterminous with two City Council Districts. So school board district 1 is coterminous with City Council District 1 and 2; school board district 2 is coterminous with City Council District 3 and 4; school board district 3 is coterminous with City Council District 5 and 6, etc. The areas that comprise each school district are defined in the School District's Charter SOLELY in terms of their relationship to City Council Districts. 

The Charter is a creation of state law and can only be changed by the state legislature. As a result, each time the City Council changes its district lines (usually due to census changes) the school system has to go back to the state legislature and have its boundary map redrawn and attached to the charter to make sure it coincides with they City Council District boundaries. 

Each decade, City Council adjusts its district boundaries to ensure each district includes roughly the same number of voters. The school districts, by their definition change in the same way. The census, and perhaps this annexation, will result in the need to change City Council District 6, and adjust the nearby Council District lines. As City Council District 6 is shifted to include the roughly 6900 residents in the area that is proposed to be annexed, the school board seat 3 will not include that area. School Board seat 3 will have fewer residents than its counterparts. 

Whether one supports or opposes the annexation, messing with voters rights to elect the officials that represent their homes - and that represent the schools that their kids attend - is a process that should be carefully considered and provided for. This annexation needs to be sure it addresses ALL these issue with regards to the schools and school boards.


If only DCSS had always put the interests of children first.

Sue Levine
Sue Levine

When heard about this annexation story a long time ago I thought it was a bit unusual and didn't really completely understand it. Much time has passed and now I see that Atlanta has Annexed these areas. I wish I understood the issue better and I certainly do believe that the Druid Hills region is in danger of being annexed out of dekalb which I find so strange. This whole thing feels like a hostile take-over in a corporate environment. Yet I know it really didn't go down like that.