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.”
“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.
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.