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Former GCPS teachers file complaint

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A group of teachers who lost their jobs with Gwinnett County Public Schools has filed a complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission against J. Alvin Wilbanks, alleging the superintendent conspired to cover up layoffs in the school system.

District officials, however, say the complaint is "clearly without merit," as the school system hired more teachers this year than were recommended for nonrenewal and did not use layoffs to balance its budget, as the complaint purports.

In all, 155 teachers were recommended for nonrenewal at the end of last school year, 139 of whom were nontenured and in their first three years of teaching.

A number chose to resign, leaving 63 whose contracts were not renewed by the school system, spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. All of those teachers were nontenured, as the 16 tenured teachers recommended for nonrenewal all resigned.

"Our nonrenewal process has always been and continues to be an annual process that addresses employee performance issues," Roach said.

Teachers are recommended for nonrenewal for job performance reasons that are related to major responsibilities as well as other duties and expectations associated with their positions, Roach said.

"This complaint filed with the PSC is clearly without merit," according to a statement from the school system. "There has been no cover-up and no conspiracy as these folks claim. Any concerns that the school district's budget process resulted in reductions in force can be put immediately to rest by the fact that we have hired many more teachers than were recommended for nonrenewal."

As of Aug. 18, the school system has hired 471 teachers who are new to Gwinnett, Roach said.

"In addition, during our budget process, district leaders outlined the shortfall in state funding as well as how the school district would balance its budget," the statement continues. "Layoffs and reductions in force were not used to balance the budget."

The complaint alleges that many of the teachers were targeted for nonrenewal because they had advanced degrees or professional and academic experience from other states.

"In an attempt to prevent this public outcry and bad public relations resulting there from and/or for other unknown reasons, the school system decided to cover-up the layoffs by trying to get nontenured teachers to resign and go away quietly," the complaint states. "It was communicated to school administrators that nontenured teachers were the most expensive employees, other than management, who could be terminated without a hearing."

The complaint, a copy of which was given to the Daily Post, was dated Monday, but the chief investigator for the Georgia Professional Standards Commission said no complaint against Wilbanks had been processed as of Friday. The investigator added that there is not a current investigation against Wilbanks.

If the PSC has received the complaint, it will not go before the Commission's September meeting, but it could be considered in the future.

More than a dozen of the teachers who were nonrenewed have e-mailed the Post. The teachers say they have never had a bad evaluation and take issue with the school system's stance that they were let go for performance reasons.

One of the teachers, Anise Anderson, said she moved to Georgia from Chicago for a better life. She taught in Chicago Public Schools for 13 years and worked in Gwinnett for three years -- and she was let go before she could sign her fourth contract, which would have made her a tenured teacher here.

Anderson was a health and physical education teacher at Berkmar High School. She said she loved her job, so much so that she arrived at work more than half an hour early every day so that she could be prepared when the students arrived.

She was featured in a video advertising Berkmar's P.E. classes, and Anderson said there's no way she would have been asked to do that if her performance was subpar.

She shared copies of her performance evaluations from the three years she taught in Gwinnett, and each of the annual evaluations showed her performance was satisfactory. The only negative mark she received was found in an evaluation from her first semester in Gwinnett, in which one area on the evaluation form was marked "needs improvement."

Anderson said she thinks there's one other reason why she was let go. While she was teaching in Gwinnett, she went back to school and obtained her master's degree to better herself -- a move that bumped her up the pay scale.

Since she lost her job, Anderson has been on six job interviews, but she can't get hired because she doesn't know what to say when she's asked why she left her former job. She also can't get a recommendation from the school system.

"I want them to come down and tell the truth and stop damaging our reputations," Anderson said. "Give us our recommendations that we are entitled to, so that we can move on.

"... If I can't get my job back in Gwinnett County, give me the tools I need to be the successful teacher than I am. I feel like my rights of teaching have been stripped from me."