Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday vetoed a bill that would have protected the DeKalb County School District against future annexation, and supporters of the bill are blaming “back-door methods” by City Schools of Decatur officials for felling the bill.
News of SB 53’s veto began spreading early Friday on social media. Rep. Doreen Carter, D-Lithonia, said she received a call from the governor’s office letting her know the bill would be vetoed.
“I wasn’t shocked that he vetoed it,” Carter said Friday afternoon. “I was surprised someone from the governor’s office called me this morning to give me a heads up. What angers me was the fact that you didn’t call me when you were considering vetoing it.”
City Schools of Decatur officials have said SB 53 would be bad for any upcoming annexation planned by the city of Decatur. The bill stated that boundaries of the school district may not be extended by annexation unless approved in a separate referendum. It also provided for effective dates, student transfers and said that in some cases school district boundaries may not change.
“We had two committee meetings on this bill,” Carter said. “We had representatives from the city of Decatur, City Schools of Decatur, DeKalb County Schools at those meetings. You could have said something then if there was an issue. I just don’t do business that way.”
City Schools of Decatur officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Carter said she was made aware that City Schools of Decatur recently employed a lobbyist with ties to Kemp after engaging in conversations behind the scenes with DeKalb County School District officials. Friday, DeKalb County School District officials suggested City Schools of Decatur officials did not understand protections provided to the larger district through the legislation. The county district said the bill did not change how a city could annex property, but instead provided a clearer process for how DeKalb school district boundaries could be altered after a city annexation.
“We had great hope in our neighbors at City Schools of Decatur,” said DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green. “But instead of engaging in legal and public discussion over the bill which Decatur had every opportunity to do, City Schools of Decatur has used back door methods to spread incorrect information.”
DeKalb County School District officials are in litigation over a recent annexation of several properties, including Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control. School district officials said the annexation resulted in a loss of 10 children but more than $2 million in tax revenues for the district. The bill sought to address similar annexations.
It also tried to address a concern from City Schools of Decatur by allow that district to negotiate when a small number of Decatur students were affected by annexation.
“The bill was the result of a multi-year study and effort to address in a fair and reasonable manner the ongoing efforts by Atlanta and Decatur, two of the wealthiest districts in Georgia, to divert money from the DeKalb County School District to those districts,” said Marshall Orson, vice chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education. “The bill protected these resources for DeKalb children, including the buildings they attend which, under current law, can be diverted to those districts without any compensation.”
Carter said unless Kemp miraculously decides to rescind his veto, legislators will have to start over in their quest to protect DeKalb’s boundaries.
“But the city of Decatur needs to understand they have a school at the pleasure of the Legislature,” she said. “And the city of Decatur exists at the pleasure of the Legislature.”
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