The Atlanta City Council plans to vote Monday on Emory University’s annexation into the city.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Judge backs DeKalb schools in fight over Emory area annexation

A Fulton County Superior Court judge sided with the DeKalb County School District Friday and delayed transferring part of DeKalb County annexed by the city of Atlanta to Atlanta Public Schools.

DeKalb Schools filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking an injunction, arguing that the city of Atlanta violated its charter in an “11th-hour change” to the ordinance setting out terms of its annexation of the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University.

“This means the district maintains its boundaries … until further order from the court,” Attorney Lee Parks, representing the school district Parks said of Friday’s outcome in Fulton County Superior Court.

The district argued in the lawsuit filing that the annexation is void because its passage violated procedural rules in the Atlanta City Charter. The city of Atlanta and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore are listed as defendants on the civil filing.

The school district had said in an earlier statement, “If left unchallenged, the ordinance will effectively transfer to (Atlanta Public Schools) from (the) DeKalb County School District over $2 million dollars in tax revenue, when APS is already the richest school system in Georgia.”

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green said in a statement Friday celebrating the decision that he hoped all parties involved would return to the negotiating table “in a spirit of cooperation” regarding the matter.

District officials have expressed concerns since last fall about the annexation, saying they were initially told it would not impact the school district. Days before the Atlanta City Council voted on the ordinance, DeKalb County School District officials said the proposal was changed to reflect growth for APS.

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen at the time pointed to her district’s charter, which stipulated it grew when Atlanta did.

Changes made before the final vote had the effect of transferring that money and four students from the district to Atlanta Public Schools, the district argued.

The district has sought legislative intervention on the matter as well.

DeKalb Schools was set to hand over students included in the 744-acre annexation on July 1. Tax revenue in the affected area would not change hands until Jan. 1, 2019.

Robbie Ashe, an attorney representing the city of Atlanta, argued that the school district had already debated the annexation matter under a previous annexation lawsuit several years before, bringing up the Emory annexation because it was already expected.

He also said the city was within its rights to change an ordinance after it was presented.

“If they thought it was urgent, they should have filed in December, January, February,” Ashe said. “They sat and waited. The urgency is of their own making.”

Parks argued that a late change to the annexation ordinance reversed previous conversations in which the school district was assured it would not be affected in the process, and violated the city’s charter.

“Up to that point, we had been supportive of the annexation,” DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green said previously. “We’ve been trying to find some kind of mutually agreeable situation, but we’ve said we were ready to take legal action if needed.”

The annexation creates the potential for MARTA to build a light-rail line from Lindbergh Center station to the Emory campus. A MARTA line could be built using city sales tax revenue that isn’t collected in unincorporated DeKalb County.

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