Atlanta and its school system continue fight for property control

Mayor Kasim Reed offered to give Atlanta Public Schools deeds to school property, but the school system refused. The city holds school deeds and the schools are suing to get them back. TheKent D. Johnson/AJC

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Mayor Kasim Reed offered to give Atlanta Public Schools deeds to school property, but the school system refused. The city holds school deeds and the schools are suing to get them back. TheKent D. Johnson/AJC

The ongoing high-stakes and sometimes bitter public fight over who controls Atlanta Public School’s properties, it or the city of Atlanta, lurched forward, then back Monday.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed offered Monday morning to send to the school board ten of about 60 school property deeds the city holds. The school system wants to sell empty schools to fund ongoing education initiatives. But the mayor wants to make sure any school property redeveloped for housing includes affordable housing, or its no deal.

Atlanta schools counter-offered in the afternoon, making a play to gain fuller control. It will accept the ten deeds only if it can add more school buildings a lawsuit it filed against the city initially to gain control of a limited number of its properties.

“Accepting a piecemeal solution would not only jeopardize the district’s legal case on the remaining deeds, but it would also subject Atlanta Public Schools to continued political wrangling,” a school system statement says.

The dispute will likely drag on. Reed said Monday morning that he is unwilling to relinquish full control of school properties.

“That is something they are going to have to litigate for several years, because I am not going to agree to (giving them all the deeds,)” he said in a conversation at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It has been a long-running dispute based on Reed’s insistance that he’ll only release deeds if the sale of the property meets certain expectations to further city development. If the school property will be redeveloped as an education institution, no problem, Reed said. If the property will be redeveloped into multi-family housing, at least 15 percent of the units must be priced affordably.

“We are losing 15,000 units of affordable housing in the region over the next 10 years,” Reed said. Now is the time to act so that Atlanta doesn’t become like San Francisco and other cities where workers such as firefighters and teachers are being priced out.

Atlanta has held the school deeds since the city and school system legally separated decades ago. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has been wrangling with Reed for about two years, as growth intown was spiking and unused school properties began gaining in value.

The school system has made concessions to Reed and the city in hopes of resolving the dispute, including reworking a complicated financial deal involving tax shifts to help the city pay for the popular Beltline trail. The city was supposed to make regular payments to the school system to cover its losses of property taxes, but Atlanta stopped making the payments. The reworked deal left the school system with about half the money it was to initially receive.

Reed continued holding out for his affordable housing policy, and the schools sued to get some of their deeds. In another concession in early January, the school system passed an affordable housing policy for properties it has under contract. That was what spurred Reed to make the offer to send ten deeds over.

Reed said the system where the school system would ask the sitting mayor for school deeds has worked under multiple administrations. He will not change it.

“APS is going into real estate development in a decisive fashion,” he said. “That is fine with me, but if you are going to have property that I have a say in, you are going to have to include affordability.”

Part of the school board’s statement reminded readers that the dispute is costing both sides.

“As the Atlanta Board of Education has shown good faith by adopting an affordable housing policy that mirrors the city’s ordinance, APS now calls on the City of Atlanta to show good faith and release the additional APS properties without condition and to settle this matter before any additional tax dollars are spent on this ongoing litigation.”