The Gwinnett County Board of Education narrowly voted along party lines on Thursday night to fire Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks by giving him notice of its plan to terminate his contract this summer.

The county’s school board members began the process of replacing Wilbanks on Thursday by exercising a clause in his contract that allows it to terminate his employment with at least 90 days notice. Wilbanks’ contract was set to expire in June 2022, and he had already announced that he will not seek an extension on that contract.

Wilbanks’ last day will be July 31.

“In light of the addition of new members to the Board and my decision not to seek another contract, this vote is not surprising,” Wilbanks said in a statement. “While I was prepared to fulfill my contract through June of 2022, recent discussions with the school board made it clear that would not be the case.

“I appreciate the support I have received over the years, and, especially most recently, from staff members, parents, and community members. I want you all to know what a pleasure it has been to lead this district, to be a part of the GCPS family, and to be a contributing member of this great community. I know that when the time comes, I will proudly hand back to the Gwinnett County Board of Education and our community a school district that is in better shape today than it was when I became superintendent.”

The vote to fire Wilbanks was a 3-2 vote with the three Democrats on the board supporting Wilbanks’ firing while the two Republicans on the board voted against it. Board Chairman Everton Blair, Vice Chairwoman Karen Watkins and board member Tarece Johnson voted to fire Wilbanks, while board members Steve Knudsen and Mary Kay Murphy voted against it.

The board voted to contract with the Georgia School Boards Association to conduct a search for a new superintendent.

Blair said the decision was made to keep Wilbanks for another four and a half months to allow for a transition in leadership. Although the board could have still done that while keeping Wilbanks in place longer, the board’s chairman said largest support among board members was to keep the superintendent only until just before the 2021-2022 school year begins.

“We explored every option and this was the option that reached the majority consensus of the board and was done in collaboration with the superintendent,” Blair said. “(It is) one that gives finality around the contract and allows us to attract a superintendent of the highest caliber for this school district.”

Board members offered varying opinions on the matter before the vote was taken to fire Wilbanks.

“I have been a board member for every year of Mr. Wilbanks’ leadership,” Murphy said as she offered her dissent. “During that time, I have known Mr. Wilbanks to be ... honest, honorable, humble, hard-working and a visionary leader respected by senators, governors, representatives, business leaders, educators, grateful families and community members.

“This is a detrimental change without a thorough and transparent search for Mr. Wilbanks’ replacement and a detailed transition plan. It is counter to the world class way the Gwinnett County Public Schools system has operated over the last 25 years under his leadership.”

Watkins said, “This decision to make this move was not taken lightly by any of us. As you can see here, we had discussions, closed session discussions, prior to this. I want to say we are committed to serving the needs of all of our students.”

By setting his last day to be 11 months before the contract was set to expire, the board avoids having to pay Wilbanks a full year’s salary, but just barely.

The contract said the district would owe the superintendent one year’s salary if his last day was more than one year before the contract was set to expire. If his last day is less than a year before the contract ends, the district only owes him the aggregate salary that is left on his contract.

Wilbanks was paid $621,036 in fiscal year 2020, but that includes his $380,972 base salary as well as additional stipends and bonuses. The contract stipulates that, if the average teacher’s salary increases, Wilbanks’ base salary would increase by the same percentage, so it is was not immediately clear if his base salary was the same during fiscal year 2021.

Supporters of Wilbanks criticized the board for the decision.

One parent, Holly Terei, called on other parents to contact the district’s accrediting agency, COGNIA, to complain about the school board’s actions.

“I don’t even trust this board with my child,” Terei told the board. “I urge everyone to email COGNIA. We need somebody watching this board moving forward. Hold them accountable. Give your stakeholders the transparency that they demand (and) they deserve. This is absurd. Shame on all of you.”

Another parent, Steve Gasper, later told the board, “You removed a successful superintendent. You give us no cause. You haven’t given us any updates on a search. you haven’t given us any candidate recommendations, no vetting process updates. Where’s the transparency? Just remember you work at the pleasure of us.”

But Wilbanks, himself, told the public that he was not sad about the board’s decision.

“This is the 18th day of my 56th year in this business,” Wilbanks said. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great career. I’ve worked with some of the finest people that exist, most of them here in this district ... but there is a time for all things and sometimes it comes (to an end) maybe in a different way than you would like it to be, but I’m going to be OK.”

After he finished addressing the board and the people in the audience, everyone in the room — including all of the board members — gave Wilbanks a standing ovation.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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(28) comments

savaivuan

Check GCPS high school ratings. The ratings for most high schools have been going down rapidly the last five years. The teachers and the curriculum are pretty much the same but the students are the ones failing. That problem can’t be fixed that problem by throwing more money and resources. DeKalb schools spend more money per student than Gwinnett with no better result.

A taxpayer

I’m not surprised that the Superintendent was ousted. This was probably a long time coming. People on this post are arguing that he has delivered well in the past, as he should’ve done in his position. But that does not mean he should’ve acted like a mobster who has managed to secure an enormous amount of wealth by a public, not private, school system. Gwinnett county is not Silicon Valley or Wall Street where execs are paid well to secure the profits of their companies. What has he secured by comparison? And GCPS has not been a school community under his leadership. It has been governed like a Colony. The moment the Superintendents’ demands were for compensation exceeding half a million dollars as a public sector worker, he should’ve been ousted. And at his age, he does not need $600+k to live out the remainder of his life. His legacy will no doubt include such a disgraceful abuse of his privileges in this job.

Jag100

I'm not sure what is so upsetting. We are a democracy (actually, not, but that's another discussion) and the fine citizens of Gwinnett have elected these folks to the school board. In doing so, the fine citizens have decided that GCPS will now aspire to match the efficient management and academic excellence of Dekalb County, South Fulton County, Clayton County, and The City of Atlanta. Bravo, fine citizens!

lisasims@hotmail.com

I viewed some of these comments and I respect that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but some comments are made by prejudice. First and foremost we All who work pay TAXES! The first thing a person wants to say is this is where my taxes go.....or they feel they can talk to under paid workers that way, which they fell to realize their unsatisfied paycheck pays taxes too. They have allowed him to get paid those wages too long and the reason behind that is because the board wasn't diverse enough and the others was probably getting a piece of the pie. This man was getting paid more than any other super attendant state wide. He does not need to be paid that much to make decisions. His decision making put employees in harms way, he wasn't the one who was making sacrifice towards his family. While the teachers, cafeteria workers and bus drivers are getting paid unsatisfied salaries and wages. Not one of these staff members can work without the other. The drivers are the first person sometimes a child see in the morning while the parents are at work but their medical and retirement plans at the end of the day can not live off of once they retire and treated with the utmost disrespect....but are required to get multiple children to and from safely. Cafeteria works provides food for an entire school in a day and the reward is under pay and lack of benefits. Mr. Wilbanks didn't make Gwinnett county school great is is the staff that provided the services. How can you respect someone who feel he deserve to be paid that amount of money and his staff barely got raises. We are staff because of the selfishness that was in place. At the end of the day these hardworking people pay taxes too and provide services to the students of Gwinnett county. Mr. Wilbanks did nothing of the sort and yall are praising this man who put lives at risk during Covid and under pay his staff. Those who feel Gwinnett county will go down without him needs to move. Farwell!

JustSayin

Cafeteria workers and bus drivers did not make Gwinnett County Schools one of the top systems in the country. The prior boards and Wilbanks’ leadership did. You can find anyone to fill the roles of cafeteria workers, janitors, or bus drivers, but I will guarantee you they will not easy find someone as experienced and as qualified as Wilbanks. ...and by the way, I have no plans to move, but I do plan to start attending board meetings.

Stranger

Sounds like someone who doesn't understand the world, much like the board. His pay, while yes high, is based on years of experience and the size of the district. Yes I can get a plumber for $25 an hour. But I'll take the $75/hr plumber that can do the job right in a quarter of the time. Experience counts. Cafeteria workers? Great respect but stop comparing the skills needed for that job versus a teacher or executive. Same with bus drivers, much respect but they don't go home and do more work. You sound like someone who can't understand economics or budgets. Put lives at risk? Sounds like a talking point from DC, Chicago or Detroit where the unions won't work no matter what. Kids first? Not with the board or many parents.

MissDaisy

A worker is worthy of their hire. In other words, an employee is paid what their labor is worth. If someone is not being paid what they believe they should be paid can quit and move on to an employer that will pay them more. Minimum wage and entry level jobs were never meant to.be a career choice; you get experience and training and move on up. The School Board members have changed over the years but the Superintendent has remained constant, as has the quality of the school system.

Jag100

I think a close read of your post says it all.

JustSayin

I’ve lived, voted, and paid taxes in this county for over 30 years and have watched it grow from a small, mostly rural area, to a thriving suburban community. Along with that growth, Wilbanks has guided and developed our school system to be one of the top systems in the Southeast. For him to be terminated by this board without so much as a public explanation is inappropriate and not acceptable. I agree with the other posters that Gwinnett County has seen it’s best days...especially with the idiots that it has elected to the school board.

anthojc

This story only adds to my confidence in my decision to sell my property in a few weeks. I’ll be taking my tax dollars to Forsyth County. This school system is circling the drain. Enjoy your 9% sales tax in a few years Gwinnett. Pay for that marta rail that will never benefit you. It’s coming, mismanagement of tax payer capital, look at Dekalb .... this is becoming a joke.

A taxpayer

It’s fair to acknowledge the past achievements of the Superintendent, but two things need to be addressed. First, he has really been taking way too much pay at his job. It is shocking to hear that he is on more than $600k a year. Isn’t he supposed to be a public servant? Public servants are not meant to be paid such outrageous, over the top salaries for doing their jobs. He is not a private sector employee whereby such a salary is doled out in Corporate America. Even Senators earn less money - over 3 times less. This type of behavior is called stealing from the State. Second, GCPS operates as an institutionalized racist body from the top down in its hiring of employees. Hopefully this will change with a leader who is in sync with the continually changing demographic landscape of Gwinnett and a leader who is youthful and transparent to the families that he/she serves as a Public Servant and one who does parade around town with a Presidential type entourage in tow.

MissDaisy

He negotiated a contract at that salary. The Board did not have to agree to it. He is a county employee, not a state employee. The county and the school is system is majority, minority. There is no racism in hiring; the administration, staff and teachers are extremely diverse. As we can see from federal to local politics, there is a ton of sophomoric idiocy in youthful politicians. Education is education whatever the demographics. A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s are the same whatever the demographics. Anything else is a social experiment.

anthojc

Let’s see, ageism and sour grapes in this post. A persons pay is subjective. You are worth what you are paid , that’s how it works. I’m fact, I’m te the definition of value. Wilbanks made this district one of the top in the nation. Look at any CEO with an employment base as large as Wilbanks had. You’ll find that Wilbanks salary was a bargain.

twlatl

Wilbanks legacy is secure, and he should be proud of the work he did in Gwinnett County. Sadly, the days of Gwinnett being the best in the state are now over. These 3 Democrat clowns are going to install someone who pushes their leftist agenda and fits the right racial and gender requirements. Just take a look at Karen Watkins racist Facebook rants to see the future of your Gwinnett County Education system.

If you live in Gwinnett because you have kids and you wanted them in the best public schools in the state, you've been given your warning to leave.

Globeheater

It’s disgraceful how they handled this. We all know why and I know exactly what is coming......

LuLuLipstick

Why, and what is coming?

Leroy Brown

[thumbdown]

Citizens of Gwinnett need to wake up. This is a waste of tax payer money. The GCPS are headed in the wrong direction, being led by some incompetent board members. Just watch some of the meetings - it is embarrassing. Shame on us for electing some of these board members.

Dr. Wilbanks deserves better - and I wish he would publicly speak the truth about what is going on here instead of taking the high road.

I am glad that my children have moved through the Gwinnett schools and will not be impacted, but fear the long term impact on housing values as our school system deteriorates under the leadership of this board.

hpytravlr

The new Board members are complete idiots. Wilbanks was not perfect, but I could not imagine handling this situation any worse.

MarvinGardens

They owe us a better explanation. They are apparently burning 11 months of superintendent's salary. Dr. Murphy, I did not vote for you in 2020, but you will likely have my vote next time if you run.

dmc1

Sad, the County that got it correct during the Pandemic is now going to be punished and it's only the kids that will suffer. I moved my kids here because of the high rankings and leadership in the school district. Now the future of this school district is very discouraging. Thank you new Board Members for keeping our kids future in your decision making!

Mom

What a disgrace! Watch the video of the meeting, Watkins and Johnson couldn't even get their vote straight. Blair should have made them practice more. This was the master plan. We have been bamboozled. God Speed Mr. Wilbanks... you have been a wonderful Superintendent. Thank you Dr. Murphy and Mr. Knudsen for seeing through this political ploy. Our kids are not your political pawns. Love wasting our tax dollars!! Shame on Blair, Watkins and Johnson.

https://www.edweek.org/leadership/how-the-fight-for-americas-suburbs-started-in-public-schools/2020/10

RetiredMCO

Saw this coming only a mile away. Democrats are completely going to turn Gwinnett county into DeKalb county east. That by the way isn't a compliment.

NF

hese new Board members have made a huge mistake. Wilbanks has shown how valuable he is to the county's success. Not allowing him to terminate his contract and spend more money in the process is an insult. I hope the decision is not for racial reasons invented at the last minute. Gwinnett is famous for being a multi-ethnic county where everyone is guaranteed a path to success. I am very concerned about the future decisions of the board members. They can do a lot of damage to the school district. Thank you Mr. Wilbanks I would like very much if you continue to lead for 4 more years

Rhawkshead

Not only did Wilbanks turn GCPS into the best school system in Georgia, he also started/built Gwinnett Technical College which has an exemplary reputation as one of the best technical colleges in the nation. This Board is short-sighted and demonstrate a total lack of knowledge and expertise in the education field. I guess they are a part of the cancel culture who make only political decisions not based on relevant information.

Scottyme

It would be interesting to know the reasons for Mr. Wilbanks termination. He has lead the school system through many changes and much growth.

JMR

Is this not the school superintendent that has led Gwinnett, the largest school system in the state, to be one of the best performing school districts in the country, twice garnering the coveted Broad prize? I understand the county has changed and progressed since Mr. Wilbanks started his tenure with Gwinnett. However, if the three dissenting members want to conduct a search for a new superintendent, couldn't it have been done more efficiently and less costly by searching in the last year of Mr. Wilbanks' contract instead of wasting time and dollars before they've even had a chance to get their feet wet as new board members? We bought our house in Gwinnett many years ago so that we could take advantage of the fantastic school system. I fear that our stellar schools may become a thing of the past under this reckless leadership.

Jag100

This is the beginning of the end. Time to move.

MarvinGardens

To anyone with that attitude, I encourage you to do so.

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