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PSC won't investigate ethics complaints against Wilbanks

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE — The Georgia Professional Standards Commission won’t investigate ethics complaints lodged against Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

The state agency responsible for the certification of educators had received complaints from former GCPS teachers who say Wilbanks and other district officials lied about why they lost their jobs earlier this year. The teachers have said they were laid off for financial reasons, but district officials have maintained the teachers were not rehired due to performance reasons.

During its meeting Wednesday, the PSC decided the matter was an employment issue, said Gary Walker, the director of the ethics division.

“We took copies (of the complaints) to the Professional Standards Commission for the Commission to review,” Walker said. “They decided it was primarily an employment issue. ... The Commission normally does not investigate employment issues.”

At the end of last school year, the contracts of 155 teachers were recommended for nonrenewal. Of those, 139 were in their first three years of teaching in Gwinnett, which means they were nontenured and had fewer due process rights.

A number of the teachers chose to resign, leaving 63 nontenured teachers whose contracts were not renewed by the school system. The 16 tenured teachers recommended for nonrenewal all resigned.

District officials have said the nonrenewal process is an annual process that addresses employee performance issues. They have maintained that the complaints filed by former employees are without merit.

Pete Toggerson, a UniServe director with the Georgia Association of Educators, has spoken with many of the teachers who lost their jobs. He’s not a spokesman for the group, but he’s familiar with the complaints.

“It never was about getting their jobs back,” Toggerson said. “That has been a constant misunderstanding of the PSC of what this was about. Either the teachers didn’t communicate what they were saying clearly or the PSC didn’t hear it. The question was, ‘Did they tell the truth?’”

Patricia Oakes, a former Gwinnett County Public Schools employee, said she thinks the school system is lying about the situation. She also said it was more than just teachers who were affected. She was an attendance administrator at Lilburn Middle School, and she was let go in June.

Oakes said the reason given to her for her termination was poor job performance. However, the year before, she said her performance had been rated as superior. She was also able to collect unemployment.

Although not one of the 155 teachers recommended for nonrenewal, Oakes said she has been in touch with many who were on that list.

“These were Teachers of the Year. They designed curriculum,” she said. “These were top-notch teachers.”

Top-notch teachers who were earning too much money, Oakes said. She said the school system hired new people at a lesser pay rate.

“It wasn’t just teachers that the school system did this way,” she said, “and how are they getting away with that?

“... We need to pull together. We may need to do a class-action suit.”