What Is the Priority for GCPS: Students or Chamber Employees?

An auditor recommended that the Georgia DOE seek legal advice from the Attorney General's office regarding the legality of payments made by Gwinnett County Public Schools to the Gwinnett Chamber.

Many of you were surprised to learn recently that Gwinnett County Public Schools has been using education funds to pay for the salaries of Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce employees. These payments started in 2007 and continue in 2012, even as school board members Mary Kay Murphy, Carole Boyce, Louise Radloff, Robert McClure, Daniel D. Seckinger and Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks publicly complain about a lack of funds for education. With a shockingly low high school graduation rate of only 67.4%, the board members of Gwinnett County Public Schools should explain why paying the salaries of chamber employees takes precedence over spending that money on educating Gwinnett students. 

Because school board members refused to answer questions about the payments to the chamber, documents from open records requests were sent to the Georgia Department of Education.  The Director, Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, Education Audit Division, concluded:

“These types of payroll expenditures do not appear to meet the criteria in Official Code of Georgia Annotated §20-2-411 which states, "The school funds shall be used to pay the salaries of personnel and to pay for the utilization of school facilities, and for no other purpose.

"We recommend the Department of Education seek legal advice from the State Attorney General's office regarding the legality of these types of expenditures and take appropriate action with Gwinnett County Board of Education based on the outcome.”

School board members owe Gwinnett County taxpayers answers to these questions:

  • Why did open records requests reveal there are there no minutes for the board's meeting to approve these multi-year payments that now total over $900,000?
  • Why did GCPS classify the salaries for chamber employees in their financial records as “Banking Fees and services for central office and local schools (including fees for investment advisor)"?
  • Were these payments an incentive to the Gwinnett Chamber for the tasks listed in the Partnership Gwinnett Report Card which included advocating for SPLOST initiatives, millage rate increases and to support GCPS in their legal action involving constitutional local control of charter schools?
  • Because responses to open records requests did not produce any substantiation to claims that GCPS received $6 million in return for paying chamber salaries, what is the basis for that claim?  


Do you want the school board to continue to pay the salaries for Gwinnett Chamber employees, while teachers are being furloughed and school board members and the school superintendent publicly complain about a lack of funds for education?

You can learn more about these activities and view the Partnership Gwinnett Report Card at www.gwinnettpetition.com.

Sabrina Smith, Chairman

Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

STEVE RAMEY November 01, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Excellent article. I am interested in finding the answers to these questions. Taxpayer monies (school or county taxes) should be accounted for and transparency in spending for the citizens of Gwinnett.
Mary Lou November 01, 2012 at 08:51 PM
That would be nice! doubtful you'd ever successfully wade through that pool, or untangle that wad of red tape that one is wrapped up in. We removed ours from public years ago as they(our kids) and us, were being failed. Would still however, like to know where our tax monies are being spent in that public arena.
Kenneth Stepp November 01, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Sabrina has tirelessly worked for the benefit of Gwinnett citizens. An amazing person with a lot of intestinal fortitude. Thanks Sabrina. Great article.
MWTW November 02, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Nice article. It really opens your eyes. I would like to point out one item. Although the graduation rate is listed at 67%, this is the result of some new math in the state. A few months ago, probably to help market the Charter Schools initiative, the State chose to change the way that graduates are accounted for. Prior to this "re-do", Gwinnett's graduation rate was 84%. New rule: If a student enters a school as a freshman, he must graduate in four years from that same school. Logical-Not quite. What was taken away was any allowance for Special Needs students and students that for "any reason" were held back due to grades, illness, accidents, or family issues. And most interesting, if a student's family is transferred or if they simply change schools, they are not counted as a graduate...even if he is in another school. The above reasons should not label a students as drop outs, or a school as having a low graduation rate. Gwinnett's schools have been proven to be top performers, not just in Georgia, but across the country. Proof is that they received the Broad Award last year which is a national merit award for achievement. Whatever the reasons for the change in math, it will hurt Gwinnett's ability to market homes and businesses. After all, the first item a new family looks at is the reputation of the local schools and at the new 67%, we don't look very good. Sorry to change subjects as your article was very interesting and eye opening.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew November 02, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Did this "new math" find its way to us in part due to The Race to the Top" Federal program? I don't know, thus this is a serious inquiry..
MWTW November 02, 2012 at 04:04 AM
R... I don't know. I volunteer extensively at schools. I do it because I have businesses in the area and believe that the reputation of public schools drive the home values and helps businesses succeed in the immediate area. So I have a vested interest in how the graduation rate is publicized, not only to Georgia, but across the country. I am offended that "someone" decided it was important to discredit the graduation rates of public schools. I have spoken to School Board Members and several Principals and they really have no answers (that they are willing to tell). After talking to a couple of local politicians, I developed the belief that this was done deliberately to discredit public schools. I am not an expert on this and find that no one really can explain it well. So, left to my own noodling, I suspect, due to the timing of it, that is was a political move to support Charter Schools. But this is a groundless opinion I developed after several conversations. I do have to question why on earth would the State deliberately make our school systems look bad. It has a direct effect on property values and businesses! Google Georgia Graduation Rates, you'll see what I'm referring to. I hope my "conclusions" are incorrect, but I see no other option. I do know that Gwinnett schools are respected across the country and hate that they are being discredited. I would love to know the truth about this and the "donations / salaries".
Jim Regan November 02, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Steve transparency aside, when did it become the mission of public schools to fund business development through the Chamber of Commerce? We pay school taxes for a very specific purpose, educating children. Where does the GCPS authority come from to allow them to give the money to the Chamber of Commerce? What else are they spending education money on that we don't know about?
Annette Rogers November 02, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Good schools are good for business. GCPS is in the business of education. The chamber should be investing in GCPS. Vote Jen Falk for school board.
Jim Regan November 02, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Only in Gwinnett would we get it backwards.
Taxpaying Mom November 02, 2012 at 03:01 PM
@MTWT The 'new' graduation rate has nothing to do with charter issue. GA (and Gwinnett) now has to put our graduation rate on a national level with every other state. The big formula?? Having our students graduate in four years. That's it. Why would that be so hard for a 'world-class' education community like Gwinnett County??? Why shouldn't our kids be compared to other states using the same formula?? In fact, some school systems in GA actually worked toward meeting this deadline and have no 'surprises' in their graduation rate. Gwinnett just spent our tax dollars elsewhere (where DOES it all go?? Hint: NOT our classrooms) and now is crying 'foul' and 'we're not prepared' and rigged' on a national graduation measure that they KNEW was coming. Way to go Gwinnett County School Board and Supt. Wilbanks!! Our kids deserve so much better!!!
North Georgia Weather November 02, 2012 at 05:11 PM
The change to the graduation rates has to do with Common core. All school systems using Common Core will use the same formula's for calculating the graduation rates. This happened about 7 years ago and the graduation rates fell then too, but then rose back up to the mid 80 percent range. It's a stupid formula and no one likes it. But suffice it to say the "actual" graduation rate is higher.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew November 03, 2012 at 04:16 AM
And again we beg to ask why a NATIONAL ( FEDERAL) standard... now? (Sorry visions of T-SPLOST logic dancing in the background) AS to the spending, the lack of proper back-up specifically relating to Chamber funding has done some damage to GCPS credibility. The inability to communicate or total lack of desire to correct this ongoing operations "flaw" defies common sense. It almost begins to rise to the level of SRTA - lite...
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew November 03, 2012 at 04:19 AM
@NGW Thank you for the explanation.
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew November 03, 2012 at 04:21 AM
But we make it up in sheer volume...
MWTW November 03, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Thanks. That helps explain it. I agree with you. The formula is stupid and hurts the reputation of the state (as if it's not bad enough now). A perfect example will be what's happening now.............All of the students in New York and New Jersey will most likely miss a major part of their school year and have to make it up. If they are in high school, they won't graduate on time or they must transfer to another school somewhere else. Both scenarios mean they are considered dropouts and the school's graduation rate will be very low. So much for these two states having high rates! What a pathetic system. Too bad with the timing as our new and improved rate is being touted on television by the pro Charter School Advocates as a reason to build Charter Schools. Perfect example of what happens when politicians get power over education.
MWTW November 03, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Specifically addressing the graduation rate: Have students graduated in four years. Sounds easy? It should be. But the new and improved system does not account for normal variations. The easiest one to illustrate is; When a family is transferred or moves to another school cluster, the student is considered a drop out and this counts against the graduation rate for that high school. Another current example is what's happening in New York and New Jersey. These kids will not graduate on time or will transfer to another school. Either way, they will lower the graduation rate of their prior high school. What a great system!
Sabrina Smith November 03, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Hi MWTW: The members of the Gwinnett County school board are politicians. They have power over education in Gwinnett. What is your opinion of their decision to take education funds out of the classroom and use it to pay for Gwinnett Chamber employees' salaries? The state education auditor said the payments do not appear to be in compliance with Georgia law. What do you think should be the consequences for the school board members who approved this if it is determined by the Georgia Attorney General that their actions were illegal?
M.K. OSBORNE November 04, 2012 at 01:58 AM
you would think that the candidates running for Board of Education would make these issues stand out as part of a campaign to unseat the incumbents .For that reason i see no need to change who we have now for someone who cant even address real issues when they could be the catalyst that begins real change .
Long Island Dave November 04, 2012 at 03:26 AM
AND FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE TONIGHT: FREE 2016: Obama's America - Entire Documentary Here http://www.butthurt.co/obama/2016
John K Massaro November 04, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Don't mind Dave. He's probably spent the last hour posting the same line to every single article in every Patch he could find. It's apparant the guy is a tool...
MWTW November 04, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Sabrina: I personally have great respect for the GCPS. The District has earned national acclaim in a variety of caragories; most importantly as the recipient of the Broad Award. I live in a cluster that excels. Every school exceeds AYP and has extremely high CRCT's and ITBS scores. SAT scores are recognized nationally and are among the best in Georgia. Therefore, I am proud of this District. With that said, if they broke the law they should suffer the legal consequences. I am not qualified to know what those should be, but I am confident there are provisions to deal with this issue. At this time there is no proof they have done anything wrong. However, you have piqued my interest and I will be watching to see what transpires.
Soccer mom November 04, 2012 at 04:37 AM
The Chamber $$ have been a major issue in the District 3 school board race. Jen Falk has openly and aggressively opposed this practice in her blogs and in a recent debate with MKM in Peachtree Corners. MKM said she condoned and was proud of the practice. Jen Falk has written many blogs and Q/A reponses to express her opposition to this topic. Let's take a look at a few: http://duluth.patch.com/blog_posts/a-turning-point-4f3ad769 http://peachtreecorners.patch.com/blog_posts/qa-on-district-3-candidate-for-gwinnett-county-school-board (see question 7) http://duluth.patch.com/blog_posts/where-we-stand It is time to unseat MKM, 16 years is far too long. Vote for Jen Falk! We absolutely need more accountability and transparency in how our tax $ are spent. I want my tax $$ used in the classroom not the Chamber. Jen will be a good steward of our tax $$. Jen Falk will foster accountability and transparency in all that she does as our District III school board representative,
Chris November 04, 2012 at 05:36 AM
AND FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE: FREE 2016: Obama's America - Entire Documentary Here http://www.butthurt.co/obama/2016
Mike Chubre November 04, 2012 at 06:02 AM
Jus stop with your advertise. Did you people ever gor t school? Grow up!
Mary Lou November 04, 2012 at 02:03 PM
FIRED FIRED and FIRED Immediately, and be made to return those monies to the education system they stole from. And think plans should be in the makings now for their replacements should they be found not in compliance. I dont appreciate our portion of the monies we pay going to something we didn't support, or given knowledge of to agree to or not. Reckless and irresponsible.Maybe this is what was contributing them failing our kids(not as in a grade) and why we went to private.


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