The Atlanta Board of Education joined with the City Council to review the outstanding issues and gather the facts on the disputed $19 million that the Beltline owes APS. The City Council has entered the discussion as the negotiations between APS and the Beltline/City have stalled and resulted in a war of words that is being played out in the headlines.
Mayor Reed recently took over as lead negotiator for the City who is a party to the Beltline/APS contract and retired Superintendent Davis is representing APS in the discussions.
The AJC reports (all italics) that the,
… city council and school board members searched Tuesday for common ground on the increasingly divisive issue. But their nearly two-hour meeting suggests APS and the city remain far apart on how to settle the Beltline’s multimillion-dollar obligation.
Some members of the board and council disagreed on central issues such as how much the school district is owed and whether the city should dip into non-Beltline funds to repay the debt.
Although the school board and council pledged Tuesday to work together to find a quick resolution to the Beltline problem, neither is directly involved in negotiations. Final approval of any agreement is subject to school board and city council approval…
The City Council, led by President Ceasar Mitchell,
…has positioned himself as a peacemaker between the warring entities. Mitchell and APS Board Chairman Courtney English, who have become allies on this issue, set up the joint meeting of the council and school board.
Mitchell said Tuesday that the focus of Tuesday’s meeting was to better understand the problem and current negotiations, not to do Reed and Davis’ jobs.
“This is about bringing (people) together and closing ranks on an issue that appears to be tearing us apart,” he said.
Superintendent Davis made a presentation that outlined APS’s position on the matter. In his presentation he focused on the following key points:
- Companies looking to move to Atlanta look for an educated workforce and strong public school system. Economic development projects – while important – are secondary to the first two considerations.
- APS has always been a strong supporter of Tax Allocation Districts and since 1999 has contributed $240 million of the total $528 million invested in TAD’s in the City.
- APS is the largest contributor to the TADs and has invested more than both the City and Fulton County combined.
- Per the contract, if there is a shortfall in any payments made by the Beltline, the payments must be prorated. However, the City and Fulton County have been paid in full and limited payments have been made to APS.
- The continuity of negotiations over the last several years has been hampered by the turnover in the Beltline’s executive team and the City’s Chief Operating Officer.
- While APS wants a resolution, the resolution must include a component that will benefit the children in APS today and not just future students.
Davis also stated that no meetings had been scheduled to resume negotiations and the timing of any future meetings was in the hands of the Mayor. Per the AJC, Board member Brown stated,
“Obviously nobody has the power to make the mayor do anything,” APS board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who represents the school district on the Beltline board, said. “But I hope that if the mayor sees that there is a spirit of collaboration and a spirit of forward progress among the rest of the stakeholders that he will be willing to join in that spirit and get this resolved.”
Both parties agree that the existing contract is no longer viable due to the recessions negative impact on property values and the lower than expected property tax revenues. However,
They disagree on what to do about it. City leaders say the Beltline can’t afford to make $162 million in payments agreed upon before the recession hit, and want to overhaul the deal.
APS — facing its own financial constraints — says the city’s failure to live up to its end of the Beltline bargain harms the school district. It’s asking the city to pay $19 million it believes is already past due, but Atlanta officials disagree with that figure. Officials acknowledge the Beltline did miss a $6.75 million payment due in January.
After the presentation by Davis, certain council members weighed in with their opinions on the issue,
Council members Felicia Moore and Yolanda Adrean expressed reluctance to offer city assets.
Moore believes the Beltline tax allocation district, or TAD, alone should fund the payments and introduced a resolution at Monday’s city council meeting echoing her views.
Adrean said APS and city leaders should exhaust all options within the Beltline TAD before considering other solutions. “You all need to get paid, it’s pretty simple,” Adrean said to the APS board and Davis. But until those negotiations with the Beltline are complete, she said, “I think all of this general fund stuff is off the table from this councilmember’s point of view.”
Mitchell summed up the meeting with the following observations,
- The parties are still divided on the facts in the dispute, including whether a $26 million payment made as a result of a judgment against the Beltline should be also allocated to the future contractual commitments made by the Beltline. [Note – the contractual and other evidence indicates that the Beltline’s position on this is very weak.]
- The turnover of personnel on the City’s side has hindered the negotiations.
- APS believes the matter has reached a point where it is urgent to resolve the matter and get the monies to fund APS educational priorities.
- As the lead investor in the TADs APS believes it has been “disrespected” in the negotiations and monetary distributions to date.
It is reasonably clear that APS and the City Council want to reach a conclusion that supports the Atlanta Public Schools and, at the same time, keeps the popular Beltline project viable. However, it appears that the last formal communication between the parties was back in May and Mayor Reed has yet to schedule time for additional negotiations.
In my opinion, getting resolution that results in a win-win-win for APS, the Beltline and the City is an objective that can be reached. But for this to happen, the Mayor will have to focus on finding the right solution versus relying on inflammatory rhetoric in the media.
Oh, and scheduling a meeting to negotiate a resolution would be appropriate as well.