Gwinnett County Public Schools is making local control one of its top legislative priorities for next year on the heels of a stalled attempt by Republican legislators from Gwinnett to push a bill targeting the county’s school board through the General Assembly’s special session.
GCPS Executive Director of Administration and Policy Jorge Gomez highlighted the local control section of the priorities during a presentation to the school board at its work session on Thursday afternoon. That presentation came two days after state Sen. Clint Dixon was pulling back Senate Bill 5 EX — which would make the Gwinnett school board elections nonpartisan and redraw board district boundaries without input from the board — for reconsideration during the 2022 regular legislative session.
“This is our attempt to tell our (legislators) that we, Gwinnett County, believe that it is important that we retain our local control,” Gomez said. “We’ve recently seen some evidence of individuals trying to usurp that local control and what that can mean for a board like yourself.”
The district’s 2022 legislative priorities program was unanimously approved by the school board on Thursday night.
Many of the priorities outlined are standard requests the school system often makes, such as asking the Gwinnett legislative delegation to push for full funding of Georgia’s Quality Basic Education — or QBE — funding formula. But the local control section may get the most debate among delegation members during the 2022 session in light of SB 5 EX.
The school board district boundaries — which are totally different from school attendance district boundaries — must be redrawn during the 2022 legislative session based on population changes chronicled in the 2020 Census. The district is working with the Georgia legislature’s Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office on drawing a new map.
SB 5 EX contained its own map, however, that was drawn up by Republican legislators and the reapportionment office without consulting the school system or school board. That prompted an outcry and backlash from the Democrats who make up the majority of the Gwinnett legislative delegation.
“That section there says, ‘Please, do not create any new laws that create a barrier for us to control ourselves locally,’” Gomez said. “And, we give examples of instruction, curriculum, (sovereign) immunity, etc. in that area, but the message is clear: we have a strong belief that locally, we have not only the constitutional authority, but the will of the people for us to control ourselves and govern ourselves.”
School Board member Tarece Johnson said she wanted to see redistricting particularly mentioned under local control.
“I think it would be great to specifically name this particular action because we as a Gwinnett County school system are intricately involved in this process of creating our maps and suggesting them, and I’m asking if we can add that specifically in this legislative priority,” Johnson said.
Redistricting was included in the local control section before the board voted on the priorities as a result of Johnson’s request.
Other GCPS legislative priorities for 2022 include:
♦ Additional funding for early learning and transportation
♦ Letting retired teachers come back to work full-time without their Teacher Retirement System benefits being affected (retired teachers are currently only allowed to come back part-time or give up TRS benefits)
♦ Increasing funding for wrap-around services such as counselors, school-based social workers, community advocates and school nurses
♦ Expanding funding for APEX school mental health services
♦ Let school systems be held harmless, from a QBE formula funding standpoint, if their enrollment declined because of the COVID-19 pandemic
♦ Fully fund the capital outlay program in the 2023 budget
♦ Consider a modernization of the QBE funding formula
♦ Continue full funding for Georgia’s Equilization Grant, which provides financial aid for districts whose per pupil tax wealth fall below the statewide average
♦ Reject calls for classified employees to receive contracts
♦ Oppose vouchers and/or tax credits
♦ Create a requirement mandating new legislation have impact statements before they go into law
♦ Push legislation that ensures schools are safe and secure by focusing on staffing, students, parents, technology, broadband connectivity and facilities