Keisha Lance Bottoms  pledged during her campaign to turn over deeds to school properties to Atlanta Public Schools. On Monday, Atlanta City Council approved transferring 31 properties to the school district. 
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER

Atlanta schools and city bringing deed fight to close

The Atlanta City Council agreed Monday to transfer deeds to 31 properties to Atlanta Public Schools, bringing partial closure to a long-running dispute over who controls school sites.

For several years, the school district and city have been locked in a battle over deeds to school properties the city held onto after APS legally split from the city in the 1970s.

The city, under former Mayor Kasim Reed, balked at turning over the deeds to APS, which wanted the ability to sell and trade school properties it no longer needed.

The council vote helps fulfill a campaign promise made by Reed’s successor, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, to give the deeds to the schools.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

Bottoms said they are making sure there are no issues before transferring over the remaining deeds.

Atlanta eventually plans to turn over a total of 52 properties to APS. Bottoms is scheduled to sign the ordinance authorizing the transfer of the 31 properties during a ceremony today at City Hall.

“I think this really speaks to what our commitment is in terms of a positive relationship going forward with APS,” said Bottoms, in an interview after the council vote. “We wish to be solid partners with APS…; there’s nothing more important than the education of our children.”

APS expects to receive the deeds to the 31 properties in the next five days, but the other 21 properties require more legal review.

“This process may require a few months depending on how long it takes to complete the remaining due diligence such as resolving boundary lines, legal descriptions and related issues,” said an APS statement issued Monday by spokesman Ian Smith. “We look forward to continuing to work with the city to receive all APS properties and to bring to completion 45 years of unfinished separation of the Atlanta Independent School System from the City of Atlanta.”

The school district sued in 2015 to try to get the deeds to a handful of unneeded properties it wanted to sell amid dwindling enrollment. Reed wanted to make sure that properties redeveloped into multi-family housing include affordable units. In response, the school board approved an affordable housing policy last year.

The city had turned over deeds to some of the disputed properties but held onto others.

The 31 properties now poised to be turned over are valued at millions of dollars. They include many sites that are used as schools.

Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen has said previously that the district is developing a facilities master plan. The district will study which areas are growing and declining in enrollment — information that will help APS figure out which properties it should keep and which ones it could trade or sell.

The district did not provide information Monday about which, if any, of the 31 properties are under contract to be sold. Bottoms said most of those properties are functioning as schools, but she said it is important to include affordable housing in properties that end up being sold and redeveloped.

There was one hiccup during Monday’s council vote.

After former school board member and current city Councilman Matt Westmoreland thanked his colleagues for unanimously approving the consent agenda, which included the deed transfer, Councilman Michael Julian Bond asked that they reconsider.

When the council later re-voted on the deed transfer, Bond cast the only no vote. He said he voted against the transfer out of “principle” because he does not think it was necessary for APS to file legal action to obtain the deeds.

“A better conclusion would have been for them to have never filed this lawsuit,” Bond said.

The school district’s statement said the parties have agreed to ask the court to stay the legal case, which APS said will be dismissed once all the properties are transferred.

THE STORY SO FAR

Previously: The city of Atlanta held onto some school property deeds after it legally split from the school district in the 1970s. In 2015, Atlanta Public Schools went to court to obtain deeds to several properties it wanted to sell. The city has since turned over some deeds, but 52 properties remain in its control.

The latest: On Monday, City Council approved transferring 31 of the properties to APS.

What’s next: Legal “due diligence” work continues to be done before 21 properties still held by the city are transferred to APS.

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The AJC's Vanessa McCray keeps you updated on the latest happenings in the Atlanta Public Schools system. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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