LETTERS: Gwinnett County school board needs to listen to public input

I admit, I’ve never paid attention to Gwinnett County school board meetings. As a parent with 18 years in the school system, Gwinnett County Public Schools has exceeded my expectations.

According to the March 24 issue of the Washington Post, about 47% of schools are open for full in-person instruction. I praise Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks for the brave decision to keep schools open and provide families the choice. The unintended consequences of school closures are now coming to light with the increase in suicides, depression, food insufficiency and child abuse.

Kudos to our dedicated GCPS teachers who dealt with the added workload and stress levels.

One operational procedure that changed was the ability to view school board meetings. The recordings are available on-line beginning May 14, 2020. Wow. My eyes were opened wide!

The meetings are monthly and begin at 2 p.m. with a business overview. I have been blown away with the professionalism, depth and diversity of the presenters. GCPS is the 13th largest school system in the nation with 180,000 students, 23,000 employees and a $2.4 billion dollar budget.

Businesses and families flock to Gwinnett. The Rowen Project, “a transformative project that will have an impact on the county for decades” was announced last fall is expected to generate 18,500 jobs by 2035. I am sure a stable school system was a motivating factor with the Rowen Foundation decision.

Imagine our shock during the Feb. 13 school board meeting when Superintendent Wilbanks’ contract was terminated prematurely at the cost of $530,000 to the Gwinnett taxpayers. On the docket to speak that evening were 43 parents. Many were in support of Mr. Wilbanks.

Of greatest concern to me is the proposed policy, limiting public comment at school board meetings. The reason: “too many speakers.”

Perhaps the board needs to consider why so many citizens are speaking? The average number of speakers from May to December 2020 was 22 per meeting. The average number increased to 38 from January to April of 2021.

Is it really an inconvenience to receive feedback from an invested public?

School Board Chairman Everton Blair closed the April 15 school board meeting with the comment, “Let’s move on.” Of course, Chairman Blair wants to “move on.” The current school board, which voted 3-2 to remove Superintendent Wilbanks, wants to silence our voice.

Chairman Blair has less than three years experience and the two newest members have less than five months experience on the school board. With accreditation on our horizon, the firing of Mr. Wilbanks and many of the proposed changes the new board members campaigned on, this public engagement is critical.

These changes have the potential to lower the quality of our children’s education, hurt our economy and negatively impact our real estate values.

The school board needs to listen to the taxpayers of Gwinnett.

Cathy Loew