By Joe Earle and Dan Whisenhunt
Atlanta Public Schools wants to sell the old North Fulton High School campus to its current tenant, Atlanta International School. AIS plans to buy, but residents of Buckhead say the deal is a bad one for taxpayers.
The debate has raged since details of the deal were first revealed at an APS budget hearing. Parents say APS has moved the deal to the back burner, for now.
APS Chief Financial Officer Charles Burbridge said the school system is considering several options to help make up a $60.9 million budget shortfall.
“This particular piece of property is not yet on the market and it is but one of many that we will consider for sale,” he said in an email.
Buckhead resident Tom Tidwell wrote a lengthy critique of the deal, as well as AIS’ defense of it, which was published on Reporternewspapers.net.
“I do not advocate in any way even considering the sale of the AIS property,” Tidwell wrote in his letter. “I cannot imagine a single person with expertise in finance recommending such a sale.”
AIS officials say the purchase will keep the school in the Buckhead community for the foreseeable future. The building is in the Garden Hills neighborhood.
“It would be great for our school and great for our neighborhood,” AIS Headmaster Kevin Glass told residents attending a June 4 community meeting. “It would secure AIS in Garden Hills.”
APS now considers the building “surplus property,” and AIS has a “handshake” agreement with school officials to purchase the property in a deal valued at $8.4 million — $6.15 million in cash and $2.25 million in services, as a consultant to APS related to its International Baccalaureate programs, Glass told residents attending the June 4 meeting.
IB is a diploma program for students that many see as beneficial for college applications. The IB program approaches education with a multicultural and global worldview, with an emphasis on foreign languages.
The $2.25 million in in-kind services is another sticking point for Buckhead parents.
“We do not know details of the IB services, whether they are recognized by (the International Baccalaureate Organization) or if all APS schools will benefit,” North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools said in a statement opposing the sale. “However, we do know that APS has already invested monies in training of its own personnel to provide such training, and has had an IB program in place 10 years longer than AIS.”
AIS now rents its building, the old North Fulton High School building, and about nine acres from Atlanta Public Schools. AIS has operated in the building since the mid-1990s and has a lease on the property through 2051, school officials said.
“It may not always meet our needs, but it certainly meets our needs for the foreseeable future,” AIS Board Chair Deborah Sudbury told about 45 residents during the June 4 meeting. “We would like to stay in this Garden Hills neighborhood. We would like to stay here if we could. If we are unable to purchase the property, we will have to think about other arrangements … at some point. You have to think about owning your own home.”
Sudbury said an AIS appraiser had valued the property at just $3.9 million. The value was depressed, she said, because of AIS’ long-term lease. Also, as part of the sale, AIS had agreed with APS that if the property is resold in the next 38 years “we would disgorge the profits to APS,” she said.