The move to make Gwinnett County school board elections nonpartisan and redraw map for the board’s districts without consulting Gwinnett County Public Schools or its school board has drawn a rebuke from GCPS Superintendent Calvin Watts and a letter-writing campaign from parents.
Senate Bill 5EX was approved by the Georgia Senate’s State and Local Government Operations Committee on Wednesday and it is awaiting placement by the Rules Committee on the full Senate’s voting agenda, something that is generally more of a formality than anything else.
“Gwinnett County Public Schools has serious concerns about the manner in which Senate Bill 5EX was introduced, the lack of input by the Gwinnett Legislative Delegation and affected Board members, the confusion the proposal would raise for voters and the impact this proposed legislation would have on the district,” Watts said in a statement on Friday.
“We urge lawmakers to allow our duly elected Board members the opportunity to work within the established process to recommend new Board maps that fairly and appropriately reallocate residents, based on the 2020 Census.”
Gwinnett County parents and other community members, including at least one pastor, pushed back on Friday and Saturday, drafting a form email letter to send senators and members of the media. The Daily Post had been copied on 19 emails containing the letter by Saturday morning.
The letter points out that Dixon, who has cited constituents concerns as the basis for his bill, lives in the Buford area. Buford has its own municipal school system and school board that is separate from Gwinnett County Public Schools and its school board.
“(Eighty-six percent) of the voices, represented by six senators, five school board members, and 13 House representatives have been nullified,” the letter states. “Senator Clint Dixon and all those supporting this bill made a decision to not include my voice, by not including my senator, school board member, nor House representative, when drafting and submitting these bills.”
Gwinnett County Public Schools said on Friday that its officials have still not received a formal copy of the district map, and its supporting data, from the bill’s backers. The district said its own analysis of what data it could obtain show about 280,000 Gwinnettians would be moved to a new school board district under the proposal.
The district’s own analysis of data from the 2020 Census — which is the data redistricting is supposed to be based upon — showed the number of Gwinnettians who actually have to be moved based on population changes is between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
“We hope that the matter of redistricting Gwinnett County Board of Education districts may be deferred until the General Assembly meets in January, and that when it does occur, it is based on a process that is fair and inclusive,” Watts said.
Additionally, district officials said two board members were drawn into the same board district while also renaming districts — something district officials warned will cause confusion among residents.
The current District 4 would become the proposed District 2 while the current District 5 becomes the proposed District 3; the current District 3 would become District 4; and the current District 2 would become the proposed District 5.
The proposed District 2, which is largely similar to the district Chairman Everton Blair Jr. currently represents, would not be represented by any of the current board members under the proposal. Meanwhile, the proposed District 3, which is largely made from the district board member Tarece Johnson represents, would be home to two current board members.
“These bills are an attempt to marginalize the leadership and the voices of people of color currently leading Gwinnett County,” said Johnson, referring to both the bill concerning the school board and another one aimed at expanding the county commission, during a press conference on Friday.
Dixon said he heard from constituents in his Senate district who wanted changes made to the school board after the board voted to terminate former Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks’ contract 11 months early. He said he does not plan to stop at making the school board elections nonpartisan, however.
“Another one of my legislative priorities this next session is banning (Critical Race Theory) statewide,” Dixon said. “We’re vetting several bills and just protecting our children from potential indoctrination.”
School board members have repeatedly asserted that Critical Race Theory is not taught in Gwinnett County Public Schools.