Calmer heads call for a cease fire on APS/Beltline $19 million dispute


In the ongoing dispute between the Atlanta Public Schools and the Beltline over a $19 million debt owed to APS, which heated up when Mayor Reed jumped into the fray with some intemperate remarks (see here and here), the AJC reports that,

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell is calling for a truce between city and school board leaders in an ongoing battle over debts owed by the Atlanta Beltline…Mitchell called for cooler heads to prevail in the multimillion dollar disagreement.

“We’ve got to move this issue forward and in a productive way,” Mitchell said, announcing his desire for council members to engage directly with APS board members to discuss how to support incoming Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Reed. “I think right now the conversation really is at a standstill,” he continued.

Mitchell, who has not had a seat at the negotiating table with the city and school district, said it’s time to reach a compromise….Earlier this year, school and city officials began talks over settling the debt in other ways, such as by the city paying for broadband Internet in schools or cutting school water bills or police costs.

Mitchell said both the Beltline and APS are vital to the city’s future. He hopes the council can somehow play a role in negotiating a new agreement. …“We have to figure out a way to get these two issues aligned and I think it will take everyone putting their heads together and cooling down a bit and having significant dialogue,” Mitchell said.

“If the Beltline as a project fails …the tremendous investment this city, these citizens have made psychologically in this project will be for naught. We can’t let that happen,” he said. “If we get this issue wrong and hurt the school system, the work we have done will be for naught.”

Mitchell is not the only one calling for moving the negotiations forward and reducing the heated rhetoric. APS Chief Financial Officer Chuck Burbridge weighed in on the dispute and stated,

”We’d rather not be as confrontational but of course obviously if there’s two sides looking at a contract then potentially you do have to bring in a third party to help take a look at the language,” said Burbridge. He said it’s in the best interest of all parties, especially the Beltline, to resolve their differences sooner rather than later.

APS board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who also represents APS on the Beltline board, in an interview with WABE said,

“Nineteen million dollars would go a long way towards adding additional teachers so we are not interested in being difficult but we have a responsibility to the children of Atlanta to get this worked out.”…she hopes “personalities don’t get in the way of doing the right thing for Atlanta’s students.”

The Beltline project is an important addition to the City – and APS joined in support of the project by delaying the receipt of property tax revenues that the Beltline project promised. Just as important, the City of Atlanta was a party to the contract and essentially guaranteed the contractual payments. APS has offered a series of alternatives that give the City the opportunity to make good on its promise. However, the City has declined the offers made by APS.

It is now time for the City to stand by its commitment and for the City Council to push for a reasonable and appropriate solution to the mess. It is in the best interest of the City and the APS to reach a reasonable agreement that maintains the Beltline project and supports the education system in a manner that was promised long ago.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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