COVE Report – December 11, 2014

Victoria Estates Neighborhood Meeting on Proposed Atlanta Annexation – Tonight, December 11

Featured Speaker: Alex Wan, Atlanta City Councilmember
Date: Thursday, December 11
Time: 6:30 pm
Place: Home of Barb Zehnbauer/Tim Buchman
961 Castle Falls Drive NE
Atlanta, GA 30329

Councilmember Alex Wan has served as a member of Atlanta City Council since 2010. He represents District 6, which includes Ansley Park, Atwood Park, Brookwood Hills, Druid Hills, Lindridge/Martin Manor, Midtown, Morningside, Piedmont Heights, Sherwood Forest, Virginia-Highland, Lindbergh/Morosgo. While Councilmember Wan did not draw the map that is currently under discussion, he is a good source for answering questions you may have about the annexation process and the City of Atlanta.

DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT RELEASES IMPACT ASSESSMENT OF PROPOSED ANNEXATION OF DRUID HILLS

5 December 2014

Study finds 2,922 students will be disenfranchised and displaced, taxes on senior
citizens will increase significantly and Fernbank Science Center will be lost to all
DeKalb students
Today, Superintendent Michael Thurmond issued a report on the impacts of the
proposed annexation of the Druid Hills neighborhood into the City of Atlanta. The
proposed Druid Hills annexation plan is supported by “Together in Atlanta,” a
local group of residents advocating for annexation.
The proposed Druid Hills annexation plan would result in significantly higher
taxes, disenfranchisement and displacement of 2,922 students, and districtwide
loss of instructional opportunities, athletic programs, instructional staff, and
funding potential.
“Innocent students will suffer under this proposed annexation plan,” said Mr.
Thurmond. “With this proposal, the focus and priority for public education will be
on the wants of adults and not the needs of children.”
Highlights of the annexation’s impact on the DCSD include:
– Property taxes for senior citizens over the age of 70 years with incomes of
less than $82,000 will see their property taxes increased by $4,000, or more
than 200 percent. All other property tax payers will experience increases in
taxes by the City of Atlanta.
– A total of 2,922 students in the District will be disenfranchised and
displaced by the annexation with the largest impact being 1,075 students at
Druid Hills High School. Similar impacts will be seen at Druid Hills Middle
School, Fernbank Elementary School, Briar Vista Elementary School,
Laurel Heights School, and the International Center.
– 1,626 students and parents in 37 schools will no longer have access to
DeKalb school choice options.
– 100,000 students will no longer have access to the Fernbank Science
Center resulting in the loss of a STEM Training Center. (DeKalb County has
four of the 11 statewide STEM certified schools with 48 schools working on
certification.
– The old Briarcliff High School, a long-term fixed asset for the DCSD with a
potential value of $50 million, could be forced from the District.
– One of five District stadiums that serve 18 high schools and 18 middle
schools will be lost resulting in a possible loss or reduction of junior
varsity soccer and lacrosse.
A complete copy of the impact report may be found at: www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/

Contact:
Quinn Hudson
678.676.0720
quinn_hudson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us

TOGETHER IN ATLANTA’S RESPONSE TO DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOLS IMPACT ASSESSMENT

December 9, 2014

“Together In Atlanta responds to correct errors in Superintendent Michael Thurmond’s presentation”

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Superintendent Michael Thurmond made a presentation to the public and the Board of Education regarding Atlanta annexation at the December 8 Board Meeting. Together In Atlanta (TIA) has proposed to maintain the integrity of the Fernbank and Briar Vista Elementary School communities through annexation to Atlanta, in light of the municipalization of DeKalb, which has gained momentum since 2008. While Mr. Thurmond’s interest in the Druid Hills Cluster is welcome, his presentation contained errors and information not up to date. Although the Superintendent responded negatively to DSCD Board Member’s request he meet with TIA last night and has previously shown no interest in the annexation movement, TIA is happy to provide this information so that correct information might be disseminated. We share the goal of success for all students, and the provision of clear and accurate information so that the democratic process of choice can be best-pursued.
Background
Together In Atlanta exists as a result of municipalization efforts across DeKalb County that commenced in 2008 and resulted in the cities of Dunwoody and Brookhaven. In 2012 and 2013, several cityhood movements gained momentum in the General Assembly, including a City of DeKalb, Lakeside, Briarcliff, Tucker, and Stonecrest. The attendance zones for Fernbank and Briar Vista elementary schools, the core of communities, was bisected and affected by many of these legislative proposals. The result would break communities with decades of cohesion. Together In Atlanta sought a plan that would maintain the community, while not affecting the rights of self-determination or cohesion of other elementary school zones. The result is a map that follows exactly the longstanding DCSD zone boundaries for Fernbank and Briar Vista elementary schools.
TIA has Met with Cityhood Proponents and Recommended Adams Stadium, the former Briarcliff High School, and International Center Complex be Excluded from Annexation
When the LaVista Hills map was recently published, TIA reached out proactively to its organizers to resolve conflicts – including suggesting that the Adams Stadium/former Briarcliff High School/International Center complex be included in the LaVista Hills map, not the Atlanta map. This resolution would preserve those facilities for DCSD students. No families live on that property and therefore the integrity of the Briar Vista community would not be harmed by this resolution maintaining TIA’s principle for keeping the elementary schools together. LaVista Hills gains strength and viability with commercial and educational assets. We expect to have similar conversations with Decatur representatives. We believe there are solutions that meet each party’s needs around the edges of all our maps. Had the Superintendent contacted TIA or others involved in these discussions, he would have been aware that TIA’s has clearly and specifically proposed to exclude the Adams Stadium/former Briarcliff High School/International Center complex.
The challenge for all of us, inside the Atlanta annexation map and outside, is that we each lose a building, while maintaining our community. Inside the map communities lose a Middle School building, outside the map communities lose a High School. Reasonable people can disagree about the organizing principle, however we believe that neighborhoods and communities are defined most directly by Elementary Schools – in terms of property value, identities, volunteerism, and childhood friendships. More importantly, we believe minimizing student disruptions is most important at these early learning stages. So we turn forward and look for solutions to “losses” we face.
1. We will solve the Middle School challenge working with Atlanta Public Schools and our communities; we will work collaboratively and creatively to do so.
2. Communities outside the map have assets with which to face the High School challenge – former Briarcliff High School, Avondale High School, Avondale Middle School, and Druid Hills Middle School are all facilities available and with capacity to create exciting, convenient learning environments in the neighborhoods they serve. There should be no doubt DCSD, working with those communities, could find a way forward as well.
Parents in the Atlanta map area should be aware that of the 1626 students the Superintendent’s presentation claims are displaced, using DCSD’s own numbers 1414 are students within the Fernbank and Briar Vista zone whose parents will be given the opportunity to vote by referendum. The Atlanta Public School system has a much more robust program for school choice, charters, a small school program, learning communities, and other programs that parents can consider and choose. It is regrettable that the Superintendent chose to consider students within the zone as ‘displaced’ as they are more properly going to be given greater choice. The Superintendent’s presentation appears overstated at every possible assertion.
Taxes APS millage including bonds is 21.74 mills; DCSD millage is 23.98 mills. The DCSD comparison does not focus on the bottom line differences to taxpayers and instead focuses on the HOST discount. The Druid Hills Civic Association has published tax information, confirmed with the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner, showing the difference in taxes between current DeKalb and Atlanta. While the Superintendent’s presentation claims increase of up to 60%, the actual tax figures for most taxpayers range from 8% lower in Atlanta to a maximum of 11% higher, with the majority of homes having little or no change. http://druidhills.org/2014/10/15/cityhood-annexation-options-and-their-effects-on-taxes-and-schools/. This analysis shows the cost differences to homeowners and factors in the proper charges and HOST credits. The Superintendent’s analysis is insufficient and does not present the whole story or relevant comparison. Citizens should dig deeper to determine what is in their best interest as taxpayers, parents and citizens. While the Superintendent wanders far afield by bringing police, fire, sanitation and water and sewer services into the discussion (incorrectly assuming continued fire and police service by DeKalb, when fire and police would be provided by Atlanta’s world-class fire and police
departments, with double the personnel at about the same cost to the taxpayer), it is ironic that he ignores the straight costs comparison of the two school systems. DeKalb offers homestead properties $12,500 exemption while APS offers a $30,000 exemption. Moreover, the presentation also took liberty with senior exemptions, comparing Atlanta and DeKalb without acknowledging DeKalb does not apply senior exemptions until age 70, while Atlanta applies exemptions at age 65, amounting to five additional years of payment before receiving any senior exemption. APS has a millage of 21.74 while DeKalb charges 23.98 mills. For most homeowners, Atlanta is a less expensive provider of education services than DeKalb. Moreover the Superintendent’s comparison is wrong or inaccurate when it comes to water and sewer, police and fire and the provision of other municipal services. The Superintendent brings the impact of HOST into the discussion perhaps to skirt the comparison of direct educational costs. HOST has never and will never be applied to school taxes. For countywide services the HOST discount will continue for any areas annexed into Atlanta. In fact, the likelihood that HOST will remain as it is currently configured is doubtful. That the DeKalb Superintendent chose to delve into areas of fire, police, garbage, water and sewer, which are outside the purview, authority, and expertise of the school system is unfortunate, particularly in light of the many pressing and germane issues facing the DeKalb school system. Issues of fire, police, garbage, and water and sewer are better addressed by the governments dedicated to serving those interests.
We believe those with an interest in preserving their elementary school attendance zones should get an opportunity to vote on that interest. We are excited about the success of Atlanta, its trajectory going forward, and its responsiveness in this process. There are questions to be answered and a thorough, transparent process between now and November 2015 (if a referendum is enabled) is essential to inform voters. Our pledge is to provide that access and information and we invite all who have an interest to join us in that work

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