Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen continued to express her concern with tax breaks for projects in “overdeveloped” areas at a Dec. 10 North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools meeting. Parents were interested in her concerns and raised some themselves.

“The TADs are not managed well at all,” Carstarphen said at the meeting, which was held at E. Rivers Elementary School in Buckhead. “If you know [the area] is already overdeveloped, why are we giving money?”

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen expresses her concerns with development tax breaks at a Dec. 10 North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools meeting. (Hannah Greco)

TADs, or tax allocation districts, are intended to spark development in underserved areas that would not be developed without the designation of the tax dollars.

Projects in TADs are approved for tax abatements during their construction period and essentially get to spend their property-tax money on themselves to theoretically speed development. Carstarphen said $21.2 million of APS’ tax revenue was abated in 2019, a 56% increase from $13.2 million in 2018.

Carstarphen said certain projects, such as luxury apartments or boutique hotels in Buckhead, do not pass the “but-for” test, meaning they likely would be built without tax breaks as an incentive.

“That hotel is going to be built,” Carstarphen said. “But we have got to stop. At least ask the question and have people answer it.”

Carstarphen’s presentation raised questions with North Atlanta parents about the process.

“When [the abatement] ends, do [developers] supposedly pay?” one parent asked.

“I know [the developers] do not have to pay school taxes, do they still have to pay all of the other city taxes?” another parent asked.

“How can we help?” another parent asked.

Carstarphen did not have definite answers on the specific questions parents raised. She recommended that NAPPS have Tom Tidwell, a Buckhead resident who is on the Fulton County Development Authority, the group that votes on TADs, to speak at a future meeting.

Carstarphen also encouraged residents to pay close attention to who commissioners are electing to be put on the development authority boards.

“Analyze who puts people on these things,” Carstarphen said.

This is not Carstarphen’s first time speaking on her concerns with tax breaks that directly affect APS.

Carstarphen also blasted tax breaks at a Nov. 20 Northwest Community Alliance meeting and praised the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods for launching a new tax-reform task force she inspired. Tidwell was in attendance of the NCA meeting and said he is questioning some of the deals that are given abatements because they do not pass the “but for” test.

At an Oct. 10 BCN meeting, Carstarphen suggested a neighborhood tax-abatement reform “task force” and it was quickly taken up by the organization.

Carstarphen’s main focus at her appearance at a BCN meeting in 2018 was tax incentives, saying the loss of revenue could devastate the district.

At the Dec. 10 meeting, Carstarphen also reviewed her progress in boosting the graduation rate and other metrics since she took the job in 2014 in the wake of an infamous test-cheating scandal. The Atlanta Board of Education decided in September to not extend her contract, which runs through June 2020. Carstarphen did not discuss her contract at the NAPPS meeting.

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.