APS Files Suit to Clear Title on Surplus Properties, despite Atlanta’s Claims
(APN) ATLANTA — On March 26, 2015, Atlanta Independent School System (known as Atlanta Public Schools) filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court against “All Persons Known Or Unknown Who Claim Or Might Claim Adversely To Plaintiff’s Title To Real Property Known As 711 Catherine Street, 202 Milton Avenue, 1261 Lockwood Drive, 350 Autumn Lane, All Located in Fulton.”
APS’s attorney is Frank B. Strickland
“The BOE [Atlanta Board of Education] seeks to establish clear title to four school properties in the City of Atlanta that the BOE has possessed for over 40 years and has formerly used as the sites for four public schools,” the school system states.
“The four properties involved in this proceeding are located in Fulton County, Georgia and are more particularly described on Exhibit A.” Those schools listed are the Adair School, the Arkwright School, The Milton Avenue School, and The Wright School.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, APS seeks to sell its surplus properties, but the City of Atlanta claims that it holds the deeds to the properties. Mayor Kasim Reed has stated that it is holding up the sale of the properties as a bargaining tool in its outstanding debt payments of 13.5 million dollars to APS.
Atlanta City Council has passed weak resolutions encouraging the Mayor to negotiate with APS, and exploring the use of the properties as parks, although it did not advance legislation by Councilmembers Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large) and Andre Dickens (Post 3-at-large) directing that the deeds be turned over to APS.
APS describes its interest in the school properties as follows:
“During the time period that record title to the School Properties was transferred to the City of Atlanta (“City”), the City operated free public schools for the benefit of the children of Atlanta,” the complaint explains.
“In 1973, however, pursuant to a Charter granted by the State of Georgia, the responsibility for maintaining a ‘system of public schools’ and providing ‘free text books [sic]’ to the children of Atlanta was vested in a new entity, the Atlanta Board of Education (that is, the BOE). Ga Laws 1973, p. 2167 (hereinafter the “1973 Charter”….). Under its 1973 Charter, the new BOE was granted all lawful powers of boards of education’ (1973 Charter § 1-107(9)), including the power to provide for ‘the levy of a tax for educational purposes’ (1973 Charter §§ 1-107(7) and 2-105)”.
In other words, APS is suing the whole world and the reasons are not surprising.
The suit also states that all “contracts, orders, leases, bonds and other obligations or instruments” entered into by the former City-operated board of education subsidiary or for its benefit prior to the effective date of the Charter would continue in effect according to the terms thereof, as obligations and rights of the new BOE.”
In other words, the property belongs and has belonged to APS since 1973.
Meanwhile, in a separate matter involving the City and APS, the Atlanta Beltline owes APS 13.5 million dollars in PILOT payments, and earlier this month passed a budget with no plan to make its 2017 payment.
The City of Atlanta, spearheaded by Mayor Reed, is holding up the title exchange for the properties listed in the March 27.
Outgoing Superintendent Errol Davis and current Superintendent Meria Carstarphen have requested that Atlanta give up the properties that rightfully belong to APS. The city has not budged.
Despite the weak resolutions passed by the Atlanta Council, there does not seem to be any real action planned to relinquish the APS properties.
“The Atlanta City Council has put forward two proposals to address current negotiations on the Adair School, and evaluate all properties used by APS that are not currently being utilized for school purposes,” Anne Torres from the Mayor’s office told Atlanta Progressive News in response to questions about the APS lawsuit having been filed filed.
“The Reed Administration supports both resolutions and looks forward to supporting the Atlanta City Council during this process. It should also be noted that the city is not a party to the filing,” Torres said.
In addition, Torres also told APN that the City has not filed any response to the APS lawsuit.
“It’s time for the Mayor to honor the City’s contract with Atlanta Public Schools and start paying off the $13.5 million the Beltline owes schools. The Beltline is a wonderful project that promotes connectivity and vibrancy in the areas it serves, but it should not operate at the expense of public education,” Bryan Long, Executive Director of Better Georgia, told APN.
“With so many challenges facing Atlanta teachers and students already, public schools should not have to fight Mayor Reed and the City to get what has been rightfully promised to them,” Long said.
According to the lawsuit, “In 1985, the City Council passed a Resolution 85-R-1934 (adopted by Council on Aug. 19, 1985, and approved by Mayor Andrew Young on Aug. 19, 1985, a true and correct copy of which is attached hereto as Exhibit P), setting forth a procedure for the City to handle requests from the BOE for quitclaim deeds for any of the BOE’s surplus properties ‘no longer needed for school purposes.’”
In this Resolution, the City stated that if the City determined it had a “need” for any of the surplus properties that the BOE had decided to sell, the City would “enter into negotiations with the Board of Education for an exchange of property.”
“Thus, the City plainly admitted that it did not own, or have any right to possess or use, any of the BOE properties that the BOE had determined were no longer needed for school purposes, merely because the City still held the legal title to those properties that were acquired by it prior to 1974 when the City had the legal responsibility to provide public education to the children of Atlanta,” the lawsuit states.
“The Quiet Title Action is currently in the hands of the Special Master. Because this is pending litigation, Atlanta Public Schools will reserve any further comment on this matter and related issues until a decision rendered,” Jill Strickland Luse, Executive Director of Communications and Public Engagement for APS, told APN.
Frank Strickland, attorney for APS, told APN he could not comment on pending litigation.