Mayor moves to hand school deeds back to APS

6:17 p.m Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 Atlanta Education News
Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms listens to speakers at her inauguration on Jan. 2, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms moved Tuesday to fulfill a campaign promise to transfer disputed deeds to Atlanta Public Schools, a step the superintendent said will enable the school district to control, sell and swap its properties.

The mayor and APS announced an agreement to give the school system deeds to 50 school properties “without restriction or condition,” according to a news release.

Atlanta City Council members Andre Dickens and Matt Westmoreland, a former school board member, introduced the legislation Tuesday on behalf of the mayor. Next week, the council’s finance committee is expected to review the ordinance authorizing the transfer, and the full council will likely vote Feb. 5.

The city held on to some deeds to school sites after it split from the school district in the 1970s.

A court battle erupted when Bottoms’ predecessor, Mayor Kasim Reed, balked at turning some deeds over to the school district, which sought to sell some properties it no longer needed. Reed wanted to make sure affordable housing was included in redevelopments with multifamily housing. The school board last year approved a policy in that vein, but the city has continued to keep some deeds.

Bottoms pledged during her campaign to transfer the disputed deeds to APS on her first day in office. Though she missed that deadline, she said she was trying to resolve the issue.

“Clearly the new mayor has, in my opinion, worked to keep it as a priority and to get it done and to get it done as quickly as she was able to do it,” said Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, in an interview Tuesday. “We’re hoping that it’s an early signal that it’s a new day between Atlanta Public Schools and the City of Atlanta.”

In a written statement Tuesday, Bottoms referenced her inaugural address in which she said she is committed to partnering with the school district “on our shared priorities of high-quality public education for all our children and creating access to affordable housing for all our city’s families.”

“Today is an important step forward in fulfilling our promise to transfer 50 deeds to APS, and I look forward to working with Superintendent Carstarphen and our school board on strengthening public education for all of our children, for every family and every community,” Bottoms said.

The deeds to be transferred include a mix of schools that are currently in use, surplus sites, and property APS intends to sell, Carstarphen said. She said some deeds to be turned over are attached to properties that APS has agreed to sell but could not until it received the official paperwork.

Having control of the properties “opens up a ton of opportunity and potential for a lot of things,” she said, including development projects, sales, and land swaps.

A handful of remaining properties will require additional legal review before they are turned over, work the mayor’s office said will be done in the coming weeks in coordination with the school district.