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Education Funds Paying Gwinnett Chamber Salaries Instead of Educating Students

Join in the effort to get the Gwinnett County school board to explain why paying salaries for Gwinnett Chamber employees benefits students.

A coalition of government watchdog groups has been attempting since February to learn why Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) has been paying the salaries of two Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce employees beginning in 2007. GCPS issued a statement in July saying the investment in the Gwinnett Chamber pays off, and in return for funding the salaries, GCPS had received $6 million which goes directly into the classrooms. They have offered no proof to support that statement, but say they plan to continue to fund these positions at the chamber.

GCPS said that there are no minutes of any school board meeting where this was discussed, no vote was ever taken, and there is no line item in the budget to account for it. We received an email saying that Superintendent Wilbanks had the authority to approve these payments without a vote of the school board. When asked where this could be found in the budget, GCPS’s CFO responded with this explanation:

Reporting department - Financial Services (300002-9990) on page 648.
Page 648, item 3000002-9990:
FY2012 FY2013 FY2013
Financial Services actual proposed Supt. Recommended
(3000002-9990-NA) $258,771 $245,687 $245,687
Description: Banking fees and services for central office and local schools (includes investment advisor)

We have asked an auditor in the Financial Review Division of the Georgia Department of Education to investigate these payments to determine if they were proper. 

Please join Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government, Citizens for a Better Gwinnett, Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, CHARGE and the Founding Fathers Tea Party at the Gwinnett County Public Schools board meeting this Thursday. Gwinnett County taxpayers and school children deserve an explanation of why education funds are being used to pay chamber salaries. 

You can sign a petition asking elected officials to account for the millions of taxpayer dollars given to the Gwinnett Chamber at:

www.GwinnettPetition.com

Thursday, August 16th

6:00 pm

Gwinnett County Public Schools Administration Building

Old Peachtree Rd NW

Suwanee, GA 30024-2978.

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R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 17, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Well "Analyze This!" then… A coalition of government watchdog groups has been attempting since February to learn why Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) has been paying the salaries of two Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce employees beginning in 2007. GCPS issued a statement in July saying the investment in the Gwinnett Chamber pays off, and in return for funding the salaries, GCPS had received $6 million which goes directly into the classrooms. They have offered no proof to support that statement, but say they plan to continue to fund these positions at the chamber. There is no line item in the budget to account for it. Where we can get that list of the 280 businesses the chamber brought to Gwinnett, the companies that hired the 12,000 employees, and the methodology used to determine the chamber generated $800 million of economic activity. If an elected official grants the Chamber …
Sabrina Smith August 17, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Hi Floyd: OK. If it is too hard to answer my original question, just tell me how the school board determined that they got $6 million in return for paying chamber salaries. GCPS would not have paid the chamber unless there was proof of the $6 million, right? Surely GCPS would not tell a reporter they got $6 million unless it is true.
Annette Rogers August 17, 2012 at 05:06 PM
I can understand that the "return on investment" for Gwinnett County is a valid "business" consideration, especially when looking at the Chamber's performance. However, my complaint is that my school superintendent has signed $900,000 in checks to pay chamber salaries with no public vote or even notice. If GCPS has directly benefited exponentially from this "investment" I would expect cost of living increases for our teachers, smaller class sizes, increased benefits, etc. Meanwhile, one person at GCPS (also on the Chamber Board) seems to be benefiting financially.
Floyd Akridge August 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Sabrina...I told you we'd discuss this august 22nd...if you still wanted to do so...see I'm not even remotely convinced that you are not just looking for something to throw at Mike Beaudreau. Till then you'll just have to look for it I guess.
Floyd Akridge August 17, 2012 at 11:03 PM
August 22nd. Make sure you are here. Don't run and hide.
Sabrina Smith August 18, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Hi Annette: I agree. This should have been done in the sunshine. If that had occurred, it never would have reached the point that $900,000 had been spent before anyone even asked if it was worthwhile. It has to be tough for teachers to read about this, because they certainly don't feel any benefit from the unproven claim of $6 million, yet I am sure every one of them could create a list of worthwhile expenditures that could have been made with that $900,000 that would have a direct impact on the classroom.
Floyd Akridge August 18, 2012 at 02:19 AM
R...this is another falsehood from you. For the 4 of you reading this thread what I said came out of the stars and stripes debate where one of the candidates mis-spoke talking about how Mike Beaudreau was responsible for the loss of teacher jobs. I correctly pointed out that school system and BOC have completely separate budgets.
Sabrina Smith August 18, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Floyd wrote: "August 22nd. Make sure you are here. Don't run and hide" How funny that you are hiding your so-called answer until August 22nd. FYI: I won't need your answer then and I don't need your answer now. I already have my answer and have had it for quite some time. It's just funny to see you squirming around, trying to avoid the facts.
M.K. OSBORNE August 18, 2012 at 02:40 AM
I will take this one "R" ..........Mawgawd ...Sabrina ... if that is your real name ... thank you for pointing out the fact that Commissioner Beaudreau does not like to play hide and seek and feels threatened that you even mentioned this . You also wrote "It's just funny to see you squirming around, trying to avoid the facts " pure hate on your part , no squirming here , oh wait ...... i got to go potty .
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 18, 2012 at 03:04 AM
I bow my head and type in awe ... I see I have much to learn Master.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 18, 2012 at 03:07 AM
By this entry Floyd, YOU Imply the answer Mike B would give will be DIFFERENT after the runnoff than now BEFORE the vote on Tuesday... Interesting, Not for long really, but interesting.
M.K. OSBORNE August 18, 2012 at 03:22 AM
I think i just graduated from sophomore humor all the way down to kindergarten . Wooo Hoooo !
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 18, 2012 at 03:22 AM
NICE try with the "falsehood" claim ... SO they DO inpact each other now eh?
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 18, 2012 at 03:28 AM
They say the 2nd time’s the charm ... That is UNLESS you request information related to Chamber Funding from GCPS or the BOC apparently. Then it may have to clear Homeland Security and those full body scans are heck...
M.K. OSBORNE August 18, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Area 51 ........ we may never know .
Annette Rogers August 18, 2012 at 10:56 AM
Someone mention Homeland Security? "U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss will speak at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's public policy luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 22 at the Atlanta Marriott-Gwinnett Place, 1775 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth."
Sabrina Smith August 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Floyd wrote: "Sabrina...I told you we'd discuss this august 22nd...if you still wanted to do so...see I'm not even remotely convinced that you are not just looking for something to throw at Mike Beaudreau." Floyd: How sad that you completely miss the point of citizens who only want to learn more about their local government. We never have and never will look for something just to throw at someone, or go after anyone. We simply gather information based upon the FACTS, so that we can educate ourselves on the actions of local government. We typically work very quietly and without fanfare, as there is nothing newsworthy about digging through documents and educating ourselves. It’s usually pretty boring, but that’s OK because we are pretty boring people. We only speak up if we come across something that raises a red flag, and then we do not run out and have a press conference unless we are continuously, month after month, refused answers to our questions. Our first step is to contact the agencies and ask questions so that we can have a better understanding of what we are researching. We usually get great cooperation and easily have our questions answered, which allows us to go back to our quiet research. Quite honestly, we have not run into the kind of resistance we are experiencing now since we were looking at the land deals when Bannister and Kenerly were still in office. That raises a red flag for us and we contacted the press as a last resort.
Sabrina Smith August 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM
We have been accused of bringing this up because of the TSPLOST referendum or because of the BOC race. We don’t care if people like you try to attach some ulterior motive to what we do. Along with many others, we are interested in those issues and have strong opinions about them, but we follow the Dragnet method of research: Just the Facts, Ma’am. We started asking our questions back in February, not the day before the election. We expected to get quick answers so we could move on to other research. Six months later, we have more questions than answers. Floyd, even though you and I might not agree on the issues, I know in your heart of hearts you do not support back room deals that take advantage of taxpayers. Because of your maniacal, blind support of your candidate, I will not ask you to comment on anything related to him. Let’s not even discuss the BOC. I WILL ask you, though, if you were researching payments made to the Gwinnett Chamber by government entities, what you would do if you came across this?
Sabrina Smith August 18, 2012 at 11:22 AM
1. Gwinnett County Public Schools has been paying the salaries of Gwinnett Chamber employees since 2007. 2. The payments now appear to total approximately $900,000, but there is no contract to outline what the chamber is doing in return for the payments. 3. Superintendent Wilbanks sits on the board of the chamber. 4. GCPS issued a statement claiming they received $6 million in return for making those payments, but admit they have never asked the chamber to explain their wild claim of generating $800 million in economic activity with 2 employees. 5. GCPS said Superintendent Wilbanks met with the board to discuss this and got their approval. The board requested annual reviews to determine the benefits. There are no minutes to memorialize this meeting and no review was ever done to determine the benefits. Board members have refused to answer any questions. Floyd, can you honestly tell me if you came across the above-mentioned issues, you would have just dropped it without attempting to learn more? I can answer that question for you. I know you would have continued to ask questions, just as we have done.
Sabrina Smith August 18, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Hi Annette: I wonder if they will tell him what they do with taxpayers money? Probably not. It seems to be such a deep mystery that they won't even tell him!!!!!
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 18, 2012 at 03:24 PM
"Quite honestly, we have not run into the kind of resistance we are experiencing now since we were looking at the land deals when Bannister and Kenerly were still in office. That raises a red flag for us and we contacted the press as a last resort." And isn't assisting in the REMOVAL of this type of "resistance" one of the FUNCTIONS of our elected officials? I recall reading that in a handbook somewhere... Isn't THAT assistance itself what "ethics" really look like in action?
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 29, 2012 at 05:05 AM
And as an update on Chamber funding campaign activities this seemed interesting Pushback on charter schools: Gwinnett Chamber flips to neutral, Georgia PTA under pressure 5:38 pm August 28, 2012, by jgalloway http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2012/08/28/pushback-on-charter-schools-gwinnett-chamber-flips-to-neutral-georgia-pta-under-pressure/ One of the biggest opponents to the November ballot issue to re-establish state authority to license charter schools in local systems has been pushed into neutrality. Another may quickly follow. This afternoon, my AJC colleague Nancy Badertscher obtained the following memo sent out by Gwinnett Chamber CEO Jim Maran to the organization’s board of directors and other parties (emphasis is mine): We have had recent conversations with members of the Chamber’s Board of Directors and Gwinnett’s Legislative Delegation regarding state-controlled charter schools and the related constitutional amendment referendum. With respect to all parties engaged in the issue, the Executive Committee of the Board has decided the Chamber shall remain neutral on this subject. As such, the September 5 event has been cancelled. The Sept. 5 event was a fund-raiser for opponents of the measure.
Ed Varn August 30, 2012 at 12:53 AM
I don't want to be labelled "irresponsible", so it's possible I missed it, but wasn't there supposed to be some kind of economic debate whereby Floyd was going to answer all these questions? And wasn't that supposed to be a week ago? Did I miss it?
Sabrina Smith August 30, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Hi Ed: In all seriousness, I have been asking for answers for over 6 months. I believe it is completely reasonable to ask what taxpayers are getting in return for payments to the chamber. Our elected officials should have been able to answer that question the minute it was asked. If they didn't know exactly what they were getting, why did they make the payments to the chamber in the first place? Why did I have to go the Georgia Attorney General and the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission for help? Didn't our local elected officials promise to be more open and transparent in order to restore trust in government? Gwinnett County has a 67% graduation rate. Can the school board members explain why paying chamber salaries is more important than spending that money to directly benefit students? All Gwinnett residents deserve an answer to that question.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 30, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Well it was announced that Chairwoman Nash has resumed the 500K from the BoC. So Sabrina, have you been able to obtain the rationale for the value the county gets? Being a recent agenda item, it seems those answers should be right at the fingertips, if you will.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 30, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Yeah, I guess I missed out on my "unmasking" and hot towel too... Its just "good lovin' gone bad, bad, bad ..."
Sabrina Smith August 30, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Hi R: I know Chairman Nash told a reporter that she planned to resume payments to Partnership Gwinnett, but I did not know it had been placed on the agenda for a vote. Do you have a link with details?
Sabrina Smith August 30, 2012 at 02:56 AM
...and, no, I don’t have any more information today than I had 6 months ago to explain the $800 million in economic activity, the 280 businesses brought to Gwinnett by the chamber, and the companies that hired the 12,000 employees.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 30, 2012 at 04:15 AM
I'll dig for it - was over on the Gwinnett Daily Post ... When I find it, will do as asked.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew August 30, 2012 at 05:32 AM
By Camie Young (3254) camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com Thursday, August 16, 2012 http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/news/2012/aug/16/group-questions-school-board-funding-to-chamber/ Two weeks ago, Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the county intends to continue its $500,000 contribution to the partnership, although leaders have agreed to create a separate Partnership Gwinnett entity to segregate the funds from the Chamber's other functions. Only mention I could pull up at this point team...

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