DeKalb County Schools contemplates future annexations

DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mtn. Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse

Stone Mountain, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Education at its regular meeting this week heard from Ed Lindsey and Dan Baskerville of Denton’s Law Firm and Lee Parks of Parks, Chesin and Walbert Law Firm on the future of legislation regulating how future annexations by cities with their own school systems will be handled.

Both Atlanta and Decatur are either contemplating annexations or have annexed territory recently, resulting in an expansion of their school districts as well. A bill that would have separated city and school district annexations was vetoed by Governor Brian Kemp in 2019.

The veto came after City Schools of Decatur hired a lobbyist, Mark Middleton. Public discussion of the bill among the parties involved was contentious in the aftermath of the veto. Then Board Chair Lewis Jones described the bill as “bad for Decatur” and CSD issued a statement saying that no one had communicated with them about the bill ahead of time.   Then Superintendent of DCSD Stephen Green said that the bill had been in the works for two years and the process had been “public and visible.”  The DeKalb legislative delegation, in turn, said that CSD’s lobbyist had not contacted them.

Both CSD and DCSD released Q&As about the bill and also about the annexation of the Parkwood neighborhood in 2014 which had partially precipitated it. Both districts subsequently admitted errors in their public statements.

All the attorneys present advised the school board that the district should negotiate with City Schools of Decatur to find a solution both districts could live with, in order to prevent another veto. The discussion among board members was contentious, but Dr. Joyce Morley said that the board should accept the advice from lawyers that the district was paying for, and accept that they would not get everything they want.

“We can’t keep beating a dead horse over the head,” said Morley.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson Harris’ report focused on equity and access for students, and she spoke of finding “healing” for the district now that students are back in the buildings.

Morley said she wanted to remind everyone that not all students are back in school, and not everyone is happy to be back. “People are still dying. Everyone has not been inoculated.”

She said that the district needed to address the mental health of both students and staff, and that required acknowledging how stressful the pandemic has been and still is.

“You have to not pretend that everything is ok,” said Morley.

DCSD’s interim human resources director, Dr. Michelle Jones, offered a human resources report. In the aftermath of reports that several teachers had resigned rather than return to the buildings, or had been encouraged to resign after their ADA requests were denied, the report acknowledged vacancies but sought to place them in regional context.by comparing DeKalb’s vacancy rate to seven other metro counties. DeKalb currently has 35 teacher vacancies, .05% of the total number of teachers.  Out of eight metro counties, Gwinnett and Rockdale have the highest percentage of vacancies (2.7% and 2.4% respectively, while Cobb County has no vacancies.

Morley asked for separations to be divided according to the reasons why the employee left, in the hopes of addressing those issues so that teachers could be rehired.

The district is planning a summer session to remediate learning loss due to the pandemic. Some board members cautioned that not all students are able to attend summer school, while others called the program inadequate. “I’m glad to see the summer programs, but we need to be realistic.  We can’t do something for six weeks and think everything’s going to be all right,” said Morley.

Board Chair Vickie Turner said that the district would have to rethink and adapt to the new reality. “I believe our education has been transformed.  We can’t go back to education as we knew it,” said Turner.

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