The Atlanta Public Schools will ask the Georgia Supreme Court to overturn a Fulton County Superior Court judge's ruling that it illegally withheld $2.8 million from 10 charter schools, including four that serve East Atlanta Patch.
APS' joint notice of appeal, filed Jan. 18, doesn't specifiy the reason or reasons it is appealing Judge Wendy L. Shoob's Dec. 28 order (see attached PDFs).
Stephen Alford, an APS spokesman, would only confirm the district's appeal, but declined further comment.
"We won't comment on open legal matters," Alford said.
Shoob ruled APS violated state law when it withheld $2.8 million in funding from the charter schools and put it toward its unfunded pension liability obligations.
The affected East Atlanta Patch schools and the financial impact include:
- Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School: $405,296
- Drew Charter: $578,514
- Intown Academy: $190,063
- Wesley International Academy: $398,492
The other schools include:
- Atlanta Preparatory Academy: $291,068
- Kipp: $785,724
- Kipp Strive
- Kipp Ways
- Kipp Vision
- Kindezi: $116,598
- Latin Academy: $51,030
Last year, the district cut $38.6 million from the local revenue portion of its budget to pay down an unfunded pension liability that went back to the 1970s.
APS also cut funding to its traditional public schools as well as the charters under its jurisdiction by 9.5 percent because of falling property tax revenue.
APS cut the charters' funding by an another 6.5 percent — collectively $2.8 million — because it said it was no longer funding them with monies from the pension fund balance.
But in her ruling, the judge said the charter schools, none of which were around when those unfunded pension liabilities were established, couldn't be held financially responsible for a problem they didn't create.
"The Court finds that none of the start-up charter schools have ever participated in or benefited from the pension plan that gave rise to this liability," the judge wrote in her five-page ruling. "Nor has APS ever subtracted any pension expenses from its “local revenue” under the funding formula before this year."
Shoob further ruled that the state's funding formula guidelines say what local districts can and can't do and that APS' actions violated state law.
She ordered APS to pay the charter schools the money by the end of this month.
"We don’t yet know the arguments they plan to raise in the appeal, but presumably, it's the arguments they presented to her which she rejected," said Rocco Testani, who is representing the charter schools and heads the Education, Government and Civil Rights Team group at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP.
The case goes directly to the Georgia Supreme Court and not the Court of Appeals because the state constitution gives the higher body the jurisdiction over disputes that involve "extraordinary remedies," and because it involves ruling from a judge, not another city or state agency.
The Supreme Court could uphold Shoob's ruling, overturn it or remand it back to her court with modifications.