Study: School taxes will go up without annexation

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 6, 2014
Consultant Tom Sayre delivers a presentation to the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education on Nov. 5, 2014. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Consultant Tom Sayre delivers a presentation to the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education on Nov. 5, 2014. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur residents will pay more in school taxes and the school system will spend more money than it takes in if the city does not annex more properties.

That’s one of the more significant conclusions of an eye-popping study on student enrollment a consultant delivered to the school board on Wednesday.

Tom Sayre from the Sizemore Group consulting firm told school board members that the majority of Decatur’s enrollment growth will come from within the city borders. The consultant’s enrollment study predicts that Decatur’s school population will grow from its current enrollment of 4,336 students, the highest since 1970, to 7,398 students in a high-growth scenario without annexation.

Annexation will add an additional 747 students to the city’s borders. As the city’s school system grows, it will be hard-pressed to find room for its student population without expanding its borders. Decatur’s current annexation plan would add 1.6 square miles to the city’s limits. The consultant’s review focused only on what’s in the current plan.

CSD Finance Director Susan Hurst told School Board members that in a low growth scenario, meaning less development, Decatur would run a $4.7 million operating deficit the first year after annexation, but would begin to see revenues increase over expenses the next year. The tax rate would stay the same, 20.5 mills. Without annexation, CSD would see a smaller deficit, $2 million, that would eventually taper off by year 20 20. But the tax rate would likely increase to 21.5 mills by Fiscal Year 2019.

The numbers for a high-growth scenario are more dramatic.

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Projections don’t change much for the school system under a high growth scenario if the city decides to annex. If the city doesn’t annex, Decatur could see its tax rate increase to 21.5 mills by 2018 and run operating deficits through 2020.

Hurst said none of her figures assume other costs like pay raises for teachers. Adding a 3 percent pay raise for teachers each year made the numbers look worse than what Hurst presented to the School Board on Wednesday.

“I can tell you with the high numbers without annexation it got ugly,” Hurst said.

Sayre said there aren’t enough classrooms or buildings in the city to hold 8,145 students, a number than includes annexation.

“There is no reconfiguration of the existing schools by any grade level that will possibly fit 8,145 students into a 3,800 capacity,” he said.

This is a copy of the presentation handed out at Wednesday’s School Board meeting. What do you think?


About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • sparksta

    I think that the number of students added through annexation is grossly understated. There seems to be no accounting for the sale of residential property in annexed areas due to higher property values and the fact that there will likely be many school aged children moving in to those residential properties. This report seems to me to be somewhat purposely incomplete so as to maybe coherse current decatur residents in to believing that annexation is a better option for their own wallets. I don’t believe this to be true, without the annexation we are dealing with somewhat known numbers for the school system and with annexation we could see a potential explosion in the CSD enrollment. My understanding is that Decatur residents don’t have the opportunity to vote on the annexation but my expectation is that the city officials would want to appease the current residents in whatever ways possible to help further the process without protest. I believe that many of us moved to Decatur, purposefully because of the schools, the hometown feel, the lifestyle or other reasons. It’s time for us to pay attention and voice our opinions for I fear that whatever your reasons were…they might just be in jeopardy.

  • neighbor

    i think Decatur should have to adjust its services/belt tighten/whatever you want to call it rather than attempt annexation of commercial areas whose tax revenues should service the MUCH larger and just as needy student populations of Dekalb County. The idea that COD should take these areas while avoiding the residential that currently benefit from them is just wrong.

    • blackbird13

      I agree with you to you an extent, but some have made what seems to me a reasonable argument, which is that the new cities that are almost certainly coming on board will annex these areas if Decatur doesn’t. But I suppose that would not effect schools since those cities will still be part of the DeKalb system.

      • DecaturNotDecatur

        The thing is, City of Decatur was not interested in those areas (particularly Suburban Plaza) until business owners, neighbors, and the county worked together to improve those commercial zones.

        Our communities worked to improve those areas and we should be the ones to benefit.

        • Eh . . bola

          Is $100k additional equity in your house overnight not considered “benefiting”?

          • neighbor

            The reality is their proposed annexation map is drawn to include as little residential as possible, so NO! Most of us over here in unincorporated land will be in a county with a diminished tax base and will see absolutely no benefit.

        • neighbor

          amen to that! do COD peeps even realize they are trying to annex a *GASP* walmart into their borders?!

  • blackbird13

    So, if I’m understanding the crux of the problem (as they see it ) correctly, annexation will add some students, but without it there is nowhere to build enough school space to accommodate increased growth within the current borders. Is that about right? If so, isn’t eminent domain a likely step in some of these proposed annexes (or possible even within the existing borders)?

    • It’s my understanding that there may be some cheaper property in the areas that the city could potentially annex. They didn’t name anything, and I suspect that’s because the second they do people will attempt to buy it and get into a bidding war with the school system. That’s a common concern with most government purchases. I didn’t hear eminent domain come up, but it’s worth asking about. That could be a cart before the horse question. It’s likely annexation will require a referendum, as will a bond issue. If voters don’t support either one, what happens then? That’s an interesting question right there. Also, how much debt will it require the school system, and by extension the city, to take on to provide additional facilities? It’s clear that nothing in the annexation saga is black and white. Acting will have consequences. Not acting will have consequences.

  • stubbikins

    DeKalb County needs the money, why should Decatur be allowed to take it just because they want it?

    • underscorex

      Because Dekalb County isn’t going to have it much longer anyway. If Decatur doesn’t annex it, LakeBriarVista will. That stuff is going into SOMEBODY’S city at this rate.

      • DecaturNotDecatur

        But it’s the communities in the LakeBriarVista area that worked together with business owners and the county to improve those commercial zones. COD wasn’t’ even interested until the improvements were starting to be implemented.

        That tax base should remain in the community who helped to get it there.

  • Frankly

    How is it that Decatur suddenly cannot live within its means when literally hundreds of homes valued in the $100,000 – $200,000 range have been replaced with new homes selling for over $700,000? In some cases one home is replaced by three expensive new ones. Could some of the problem be not just the numbers of students, but budget priorities? The HS has a new stadium and auditorium/gym but inadequate classroom space – is that a problem with priorities, planning or what? This is an honest question, and any information would be appreciated.

    • Budget priorities are political decisions, and something voters will need to decide in future elections. If the enrollment projections hold true then space will be an unavoidable issue. I’d personally like to know how CSD would deal with the issue if annexation does not happen and no new sources of revenue are approved. I’d also like to know what the impact of annexing areas that aren’t in the master plan would be. The study doesn’t appear to account for all of the possible scenarios. It’s my understanding that one of the areas interested in annexing into Decatur has a school building. What would that mean for Decatur?

    • blackbird13

      One thing I think they should at least take a look at is assessments. Don’t have any data, but I’ve heard from quite a few people that both the commercial properties and the newly upsized homes are undervalued. Perhaps the city should resume doing its own assessments instead of letting DeKalb handle them.

    • Don Rigger

      Until 5 years ago Decatur High had no auditorium, a gym built in the 1930s that was so bad the volleyball and basketball played at the city Rec Center, and a stadium built in the 1930s. These facilities were some of the absolute worse in metro Atlanta. At the time the new facilities were built the school had plenty of classroom space. It’s not an issue of priorities, but of explosive growth.

  • Eh . . .Bola

    The numbers on page 8 show that currently Decatur has .52 students per residence. That is expected to climb to .69 students per residence by 2020.

    The numbers on page 8 show that Areas A-D currently have .14 students per residence. That is expected to climb to .2 students per residence by 2020.

    I feel that the number of students per residence by 2020 in the annexed areas is greatly underestimated. Once those areas are annexed and people start cashing in on their newfound equity so larger homes can be built, the number of kids is going to spike. Assume for a second that in 2020, the number of kids per residence is still has gone up to .35. That’s still over 30% lower than Decatur’s number TODAY. That means ~500 more kids than is projected under these models, or an entire elementary schools worth.

    The really frightening scenario is running the numbers based on Areas A-D playing even more catch-up with Decatur’s current student/residence ratio. If Areas A-D match Decatur’s CURRENT ratio by 2020, there is over 1,000 extra kids in the mix.

  • Donna S.

    Decatur should not be allowed to steal the commercial property DeKalb County because it hasn’t properly financed its schools. They should simply raise their resident’s taxes since their residents oppose adding any more residents to their city.

    • underscorex

      Should LakeVistaCliff be allowed to “steal” the land? Because that’s how annexation works – the people who live in the area vote on the annexation.

      • DecaturNotDecatur

        LakeVistaCliff is stealing nothing. That area has always been in the maps for a new city… which is not the same as annexation.

        We worked to improve the commercial – we should benefit. COD wasn’t interested in the Plaza until our communities worked on the improvements. If COD wanted it, they should’ve done something 5 years ago… not wait until they sense a cash cow. Time for some belt-tightening in COD – not trying to pull the rug out from under other communities.

  • Living in Decatur

    Dan. Funding aside .. has CSD got a plan to deal with this growth or is the reality the school system and quality of education going to start to decline? If so, end result will be people will leave as many people are only here for the schools.

  • Chris Billingsley

    This comment is directed to Coach Rigger, someone whom I Have a great deal of respect. Tried to post this earlier but my damn IPod is really frustrating. Or maybe it’s the vast left wing conspiracy that controls the media. Anyway…
    ” Thanks Coach Rigger. Normally I do not respond to individual comments, and I promise to read and reply to your follow up but I feel it necessary to give a directed response. It is true that DHS had a gym and stadium built in the late 1930s and early 40s but that didn’t keep us from winning state championships throughout the Forties and Fifties, producing a football powerhouse in the Sixties and a state championship for Trinity High School (no official stadium and practice facilities that were a joke), several basketball and soccer state championships, a final number 2 volleyball team ranking and other state ranked teams, not the mention that DHS has more state championships in swimming, and no pool, than any other sport. And most of the players on these teams were ordinary kids. And as much as I opposed the building referendum, it was approved by the voters, VOX POPULI! This will not be done with annexation.
    But the real issue for me is believability. The Sizemore group is the same outfit that told us twelve years ago that our student population was decreasing, even though many in Decatur found that hard to believe. As a result, two elementary schools were closed or made into a 4/5 academy and a third was converted into an early childhood development center. I continue to believe that this was done not for decreasing enrollment but for political reasons. This idea continue to shape everything that goes on in our schools, whether it is “shrinking the achievement gap”, anti-bullying campaigns, or as in the case of IB, attacks on conservative views and traditional religious beliefs. Politics has always influenced school decisions but nothing like recent events.
    So I’m glad to see the number of comments on this site and Decatur Metro questioning the wisdom of the Sizemore recommendations. This is one of the few opportunities for citizens to freely express their ideas. I can only hope that the temperature for our school board meetings, as well as our commission meetings, rises and makes our elected officials a little more uncomfortable. It’s not just about annexation, taxes, or new development ordinances but the fundamental nature of government in Decatur.

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