Are Atlanta Public Schools the Losers in the Beltline Beautification Project?

In this corner of the ambitious Atlanta Beltline project, you have Mayor Kasim Reed along with consortium of powerful Beltway supporters.
In the other corner, there’s the Atlanta Public School system and Atlanta City Council President Caesar Mitchell.
In the middle is a beleaguered school system in desperate need of the promised cash to educate the students of Atlanta.
Nearly a decade ago, the APS and the city entered an agreement by which the school system would relinquish a portion of the property taxes to help the city build the 22-mile Beltline that would connect the many neighborhoods, help beautify the city, and add additional income streams. The city in turn was supposed to fork over lump sums of millions of dollars at designated times in order for the APS to operate at optimum levels.
Multiple events took place that prevented the actuality of the agreement from manifesting in ways that would appease both sides, most significantly one of the greatest economic recessions the county has ever seen.
After going through the courts and other avenues, the city and the APS were negotiating a new agreement that would enable the city to pay off its APS debts without jeopardizing the health and stability of the Southeast’s most important city.
But some parties within the APS camp believed the negotiations were not moving along fast enough — and Atlanta Public Schools were, as they believe, suffering because of it.
Therefore, Mitchell entered the negotiation process in what Mayor Reed believed was a grandiose fashion that undermined his authority and made him look bad. Subsequently, political fireworks commenced.
A war of words erupted over the airwaves after Reed became angered that City Council President Ceasar Mitchell introduced legislation Monday, Jan.5 to settle a dispute with Atlanta Public Schools over Atlanta Beltline dollars,  and urged the city tap into city reserves to reconcile its debts to the APS.
Reed steamed at a press conference to, in effect, tell Mitchell to get back in his place because he has the situation handled.
“We don’t pull political stunts like offering to pay $13.8 million to someone in the middle of a negotiation where you are the number two fiduciary in the city,” Reed said angrily at a news conference at City Hall. “Where do they do that at?” he asked with an accusatory and incredulous tone in his voice.
Mitchell fired back outside council chambers, and vehemently denied that he was working behind the mayor’s back, nor did he say he submitted legislation to pay off the $14 million debt to the APS all in one fell swoop.
“I didn’t say just say cut a check. That would be crazy,” he said adamantly. “That would be crazy!” he added for emphasis.
Reed was already incensed after getting a hold of a scathing column that Mitchell wrote, accusing the city of reneging on its promises to provide sizable payments to the APS in exchange for using property taxes on the Beltline.
“This inescapable fact brings me to the current state of affairs between the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools concerning the Atlanta BeltLine project,” Mitchell wrote.
“The path forward is a straightforward one where political and civic jostling is set aside, and the unifying spirit of partnership symbolized by the BeltLine — and ultimately required to save our youth — is affirmatively embraced,” Mitchell continued in the op-ed on “It is in that spirit of coming together that I will aggressively do everything in my power as president of the Atlanta City Council to resolve the contractual dispute for the sake of Atlanta’s children and our intown neighborhoods.”
Mitchell is asking the city of Atlanta and Reed to appropriate $13.7 million out of the $137 million in city reserves to pay off its past due debt to the APS under contractual agreement.
“But this show of good faith is only part of the solution. Thus, I humbly caution my committed friends at APS, who are working very hard to improve educational outcomes and transform our school system, not to misinterpret this good faith,” Mitchell wrote.
An outraged Reed denounced Mitchell as violating his fiduciary duty to the city by attempting to undercut him during the negotiations with the APS.
Reed said the city has worked hard to build up its reserves to the levels they are now. Afterwards Reed worked hard at unleashing a barrage of verbal punches at Mitchell.
“And then he writes this long soliloquy where he’s talking about why people haven’t been able to decide. Well, I’ve got something for him. That’s why he’s not mayor,” said Reed. “You do know he ran for mayor, right?”
Mitchell, a lifelong Atlanta resident and longtime city servant, tried to  brush off the mayor’s brusque comments by saying he is only defending and protecting the city’s future by ensuring children get the best possible education.
“This is leadership. Something that we sorely need and I’m not standing here in a heated fashion. I’m being very firm about this. I was born in this city. I will die in this city. I love this city and anyone who challenges that notion is certainly going to hear from me,” said Mitchell, adding that he was “blindsided” and “dumbfounded” by Reed’s comments.
“The conditions and the environment have changed in the last 10 years and understanding that, we need to do this agreement over again. And that’s essentially what the legislation was saying,” Mitchell said in his defense.

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