Atlanta school board opposition to Buckhead City emerges as a top priority

Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Jason Esteves, shown at a news conference in January, said the Buckhead cityhood proposal would bring uncertainty to Atlanta families and the school district.  STEVE SCHAEFER/ AJC FILE PHOTO

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Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Jason Esteves, shown at a news conference in January, said the Buckhead cityhood proposal would bring uncertainty to Atlanta families and the school district. STEVE SCHAEFER/ AJC FILE PHOTO

Defeating a proposal to spin off Buckhead as its own city is emerging as one of the Atlanta school board’s top political goals for next year.

On Dec. 6, the Atlanta Board of Education is poised to finalize its priorities for the 2022 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Near the top of that list is a new aim: “Advocating against legislation that supports the creation of a City of Buckhead.”

The push to break off the affluent enclave from the rest of the city threatens Atlanta Public Schools’ property tax base and enrollment while diverting time and attention away from the district’s most-pressing work, leaders said.

“The proponents of the Buckhead City movement are very loud, but there is a relatively quiet majority that are very concerned about the impacts that this will have on education but also the region,” said school board Chairman Jason Esteves.

Last week, a group of Republican state legislators filed a bill that, if passed, would allow Buckhead residents to vote on whether they should form their own city.

ExploreGeorgia Republican senator files bill starting fight for creation of Buckhead City

Advocates cite crime reduction as a leading reason they want to create their own city and hire their own police force.

But also at stake are the educational futures of more than 5,500 Atlanta students who reside within the proposed Buckhead city limits as well as APS revenue of $232 to $300 million, depending on the estimate. Buckhead schools are among the highest-performing in APS.

Bill White, CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, said the group is confident the “legislation will provide that APS will continue to serve Buckhead families.”

ExploreStatement from Bill White, CEO of Buckhead City Committee

“We have no desire to affect the Atlanta Public Schools’ tax base and believe the APS Board of Education would be better off supporting our legislation to keep the new Buckhead City within the district,” he said, in a written statement.

School officials remain wary.

Esteves said that without a law change or an agreement with Fulton County Schools, Buckhead students would become Fulton County students. APS would continue to own 13 properties and school buildings within the impacted area, including North Atlanta High School.

“To me, those are all time consuming and complicated steps that have never taken place in the history of the state yet [they] are making promises based on that,” Esteves said.

Fulton County Schools spokesman Brian Noyes said the district is taking a neutral stance on the Buckhead proposal. He declined further comment. The Fulton school board last week approved its legislative priorities for the coming year, and the issue does not appear among the half-dozen goals.

White said it’s unrealistic to think APS would refuse the tax dollars that come with Buckhead. Those funds would help pay for “much-needed reforms” to address the district’s troubled schools and “abysmal” test scores, he said.

“Instead of attempting to interfere with Buckhead’s 70,000 citizens’ absolute right to vote on its own destiny, we hope APS will focus all its attention, resources, and capabilities on the singular and much more important goal of providing higher quality education for our beloved children,” said his statement, in part.

ExploreNew study of ‘Buckhead City’ adds fuel to debate

A poll commissioned several months ago by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found about 58% of Atlanta voters don’t want Buckhead to break away. But just over half of survey respondents who live in Buckhead ZIP codes supported a split.

A parent group is rallying to oppose the Buckhead plan. North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools wrote a letter this week to other APS parent leaders to provide assurance that they are “strongly opposed to this legislation and the movement behind it.”

Caren Solomon Bharwani, who lives in Buckhead and has three children in APS, serves as the group’s community engagement and advocacy chair. She said families are worried about what will happen to schools, students and teachers if Buckhead leaves Atlanta.

“It’s a great concern that our kids wouldn’t be able to go to their neighborhood schools,” she said.

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