De-Occupy Dunwoody

Update: Dunwoody voters resoundingly defeated this measure in Tuesday’s election; the bond issue went down by a 2-1 margin. Tax-wary Dunwoody voters–who aren’t as wedded to public education as the rest of the county–also voted against the countywide one-cent SPLOST sales tax for the school improvement projects. Nevertheless, DeKalb County passed the SPLOST extension.


Ah, those pesky Apartment Dwellers. They cause so much trouble. And to make matters worse, sometimes they make their wealthier neighbors look bad when the homeowners are only trying to solve “the problem.”

At the heart of my novel, Chain Gang Elementary, there’s a bitter, divisive split in the Malliford Elementary School community over how to deal with “those people”—whether (A) to exclude them from the community, or, failing that, to segregate, stigmatize, and bullywhip them into shape or (B) to welcome them, treat them as equals, and to assist them when necessary.

At one point, one parent writes in a newsletter article, “The excessive influx of apartment population into Malliford would further skew our demographics, lower test scores, and devalue property. Diversity is one thing, but Section 8 housing is too much!”

The fictional dispute turns into a cage match between the school’s principal and its PTO president. To see who’s taking which side, you’ll have to read the book.

Well, there’s a similar battle playing out in Dunwoody, Georgia a recently incorporated city that’s right next door to me. (I live in DeKalb County, with a Chamblee address.)  There’s a lot of money in Dunwoody, home to two of the highest-achieving elementary schools in the state, Vanderlyn and Austin.  Several years ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Vanderlyn parents thought apartment residents (and I paraphrase) “should have their own school.”  This outraged then-Superintendent Crawford Lewis, who went on to commit some outrages of his own, of course (and is currently under indictment on racketeering charges).

Well, it seems that the city leaders of Dunwoody, newly emboldened with the powers of eminent domain and calling for bond referendums, have come up with a neat solution to “the Apartment Problem”: pass a bond referendum, buy the city’s two lower-income apartment complexes, and turn the land they’re on into sports complexes.

“Those people” (many of them persons of color) would then go wherever such people go, and the wealthy (and mainly white) kids would be free to play on their fields of dreams.  As an added bonus, test scores in local schools will go up, and so, presumably, will property values.

Win-win, right?

Unless it’s lose-lose. Taking away poorer children’s access to good schools so that rich kids can play Little League closer to home seems to some of us to be … what’s the word here … ugly? Racist? An act of class warfare? (Ha! When have the rich ever been guilty of that? Usually it’s only deemed “class warfare” when the poor fight back. But enough of Fox News.)

Much like the police official in Casablanca, Dunwoody’s city fathers are shocked, shocked that anyone would think such things. They are only thinking of the children. And their parents. (Driving to Murphey-Candler Park, the Concorde soccer fields, or the YMCA’s swimming pool can be such a bitch.)

However, the coincidence shouts down their denials.

The plan has draw opposition from some conservatives, who are concerned about the equity issue and also make the common-sense argument that it’s a mistake to destroy property that produces income and replace it with property that doesn’t.

In ironic juxtaposition to the Occupy Atlanta protests, Dunwoody residents prepare to vote on what amounts to an eviction notice for the city’s poorer residents next Tuesday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an article on the dispute. You can read it here.



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