Atlanta’s Board of Education on Sept. 9 approved a lease over the objections of Chastain Park residents.
The BOE also approved more than a dozen use permits for facilities owned by the school system.
The agreements would allow private groups to rent school-owned buildings and athletic fields, but some of the agreements already had been in effect before being approved on Sept. 9, according to Atlanta Public Schools records.
The lease has become a brewing controversy for Buckhead residents living around the community’s busiest park.
The Chastain Park Civic Association on Aug. 26 voted against the use of the former Sutton Middle School fields by Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, saying the church’s athletics program will add to their traffic problems.
One Chastain resident, local attorney Mark Murray, told the BOE on Sept. 9 that approving a lease for Peachtree Road United Methodist Church was against school system policies. Murray said his inquiry into Peachtree Road United Methodist Church’s leasing of fields at the former Sutton Middle School also raised questions about use permits for the other schools.
“I guess in looking into this, it prompted them to figure out whether they were in compliance with policy or not,” Murray said.
Reporter Newspapers asked APS to explain why the board had not approved the permits until Sept. 9, but so far has not received a response.
PRUMC has been renting fields at E. Rivers Elementary, but was forced to relocate with the elementary school to the former Sutton campus. Sutton is now at the former North Atlanta High and E. Rivers is at the old Sutton campus while the E. Rivers campus is rebuilt.
PRUMC officials have said the church is a long-time partner with Atlanta Public Schools, specifically with E. Rivers Elementary, and that the lease has been helpful to both parties.
In addition to approving a lease for the former Sutton Middle School fields, the board also approved use permits for 13 other schools owned by APS. The meeting summary posted on the Talk UP APS blog shows that the permits were in effect before they were approved by the board. A permit for Peachtree Presbyterian Church to use Garden Hills Elementary fields has been in effect since December 2012, according to APS records.
The BOE agenda said the school board needed to approve the permits to comply with a school system policy called “Policy KG.”
“Policy KG states that all requests for use of school facilities for a period longer than one week shall be referred to the Board of Education for approval,” reads a summary of the action on the school board agenda. “Included is a list of permits that are being submitted for ratification and/or approval consistent with the Policy KG.”
Board member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane asked for clarification on the permits during Monday’s meeting, according to the TalkUP APS summary.
“This list will only include those that have not come to us for board approval,” she asked Superintendent Erroll Davis.
“I’m not sure, but if you haven’t approved them they probably are on here,” Davis said.
In addition to violating APS policy, Murray also said the lease violates the Constitution of Georgia and the United States because a church will be using the property.
“What we are requesting of this Board is nothing more than what we can expect as the individuals who elected you. We simply ask that you honor your oath to us and to uphold and observe the policies of APS and the Constitutions and laws of the United States and the State of Georgia,” Murray said at the Sept. 9 meeting.
Here is a full list of use permits approved by the BOE.