Mayor Kasim Reed said Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen “doesn’t know what she’s talking about” in a dispute over deeds the city holds to APS property.
Earlier this week, Carstarphen told the school board that she’s unable to execute the sale of an abandoned school in Adair Park because Reed’s administration has refused to turn over the deed. Atlanta holds deeds to a number of school properties because the school district was once under the city’s purview.
APS is working to shed 12 surplus properties as a way to boost revenue. “I’m not able to do what I have to do because we are at the mercy of another entity,” Carstarphen said on Monday, when she asked board leaders to work with the city on the issue.
Speaking after his annual State of the City business breakfast on Wednesday, Reed called her remarks “an unfortunate political stunt” and blamed it on her relatively short time in Atlanta. Carstarphen joined the school system last year. Reed has repeatedly noted he helped raise funds to recruit the school leader to Atlanta.
“I thought that one, she’s new, she’s inexperienced in this city and doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Reed said.
Atlanta has held the deeds since 1996 and is under no legal obligation to release them, he noted. “So I’m not the first mayor not to turn over the deeds. Clearly there is a reason they haven’t been turned over,” he said.
Carstarphen could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday, but school officials say they are working in good faith.
“Dr. Carstarphen went on record Monday night asking that the board help her to resolve this issue,” said Jill Strickland, spokeswomen for Atlanta Public Schools. “APS has worked in good faith with the city of Atlanta’s real estate leader to secure all the deeds as well as worked with buyers for the properties in question. She is not trying to pick a political fight. These properties have nothing to do with the Beltline.”
Reed said former Superintendent Erroll Davis proposed transferring deeds to some school properties back to APS as part of a solution to a conflict over Atlanta Beltline financing, something Carstarphen would know “had she done her homework.”
Davis could not be reached for official comment on the issue.
The city and APS have been at odds for the past two years over debt Atlanta owes in connection with the Beltline greenspace project.
Per a 2009 agreement, the city — which oversees the taxing district that funds the Beltline — must make annual payments to APS in exchange for using a portion of the school’s property tax revenue for the green space project.
Citing lingering effects from the economic downturn, which depressed the Beltline’s growth, the city is currently behind on two payments, totaling $13.5 million. Reed has said the money won’t be paid until the parties re-strike a deal, much like a mortgage modification.
But the school system has insisted that the city should pay what it currently owes, and in recent months has mobilized parent groups and hired consultants to promote the district’s position.
Carstarphen has largely avoided the conflict as Davis and APS board chairman Courtney English have led negotiations.
On Wednesday, an Adair Park neighborhood association sent an email to Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, calling for the release of the deed. A developer is poised to buy the dilapidated elementary school for $412,000, a deal that resulted from a competitive bid process, APS records show.
Reed said Wednesday that he is focused on resolving the Beltline conflict, noting the property deeds will be part of the solution.