Decatur, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

The Decatur school system hired Governor Brian Kemp’s frat brother to lobby for a veto of hard-won legislation to keep annexations from decimating DeKalb County schools.

Decatur City Schools didn’t bother giving much feedback to the legislative delegation as they worked through the thorny problem this year, according to a press release from the DeKalb County School System reported by Decaturish today. Instead, Decatur waited until the bill passed in legislation — without a single vote against it — before bringing their objections directly to Kemp.

The law would have prevented Atlanta’s annexations around Emory University and Druid Hills from either taking children out of the DeKalb school system, or (critically) taking the lucrative commercial and high-value residential tax base along with those children.

Decatur’s prized school system comes with relatively high taxes; about 61 cents of every property tax dollar in Decatur funds its schools, which spend about $2,000 more per student than DeKalb County does. Applied to Decatur, the law would mean Decatur couldn’t annex nearby commercial properties like Suburban Plaza to offset residential property taxes.

DeKalb politicians left and right are calling foul. DeKalb School Board member Marshall Orson called the decision, “very disappointing” and said it “continues the ongoing risk to DeKalb students.” Former Republican State Sen. Fran Millar accused Democrats of failing to follow through on the legislation, noting that the delegation no longer has a Republican interlocutor on the county’s behalf.

I am wondering how the basic blocking and tackling of DeKalb politics got this twisted.

Frank Underwood’s words ring in my ears. “Vote your district. Vote your conscience. Don’t surprise me.” Whatever else happens here, Decatur decided that this victory was worth surprising the DeKalb delegation, which might now be expected to look on Decatur’s future legislative agenda without particular charity, at least for a time.

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