Legislation proposes school systems join annexation disputes

Photo of Georgia State Capitol (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Proposed legislation pre-filed in the Georgia General Assembly would add local school systems to the existing annexation dispute process. State lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for their annual session.

State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur) sponsored House Bill 23. In a Facebook post, the representative shared “school systems must be at the table” and seeks to strengthen the process for disputed annexations.

Annexation allows unincorporated land owners to apply to join adjacent city limits, and for the city council to consider and vote on their request. State law allows county commissions to object to the annexation request if the proposed land use is inconsistent with the county’s plan. If an objection is filed, then an arbitration panel can be convened to consider the request. The panel’s findings — and any conditions imposed — take effect for one calendar year. Afterwards, the annexation or a change in zoning can proceed without the county’s input.

Oliver’s bill would add the local school system as an eligible party to file an objection. It would also enable the arbitration panel to consider existing and planned school capacity in their findings.

Schools & Zoning

During the 2020 legislative session, State Rep. Mike Wilensky sponsored a bill codifying a local government’s option to consider school system impacts when making zoning decisions. Although the bill did not receive a house vote, the consensus from Representative Wilensky was that no existing statute or case law prevents local governments from considering school system impacts. There exists a widespread misconception, including printed previously by Moving Henry Forward, that local governments cannot consider the school system.

Even though this information would theoretically allow a local government to base their zoning decision in part on school capacity, it should not be considered a sufficient reason alone to deny development. A question about school capacity would be most relevant in a large housing development. For example, developments proposing over one-thousand lots would cause significant impact on the school system. Developments of this magnitude are few and far between.

A classroom capacity study completed earlier this year showed district-wide capacity exists in Henry County Schools. The upcoming education SPLOST VI program proposes school additions where needed to address capacity concerns at specific locations.

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Clayton Carte is the founder and owner of Moving Henry Forward Community News. The website provides local news coverage in Henry County, Georgia.