I entered this race because I believe you, the people of Gwinnett County, deserve better representation on your school board. I could no longer sit back and watch a career politician, who has become complacent and continuously skirts her responsibility by turning a blind eye to cronyism and backdoor agreements, like the one that has surfaced in the news recently involving more questionable expenditures made by the superintendent.
Election Day is fast approaching, and this is a turning point in the campaign. It's time for straight talk. Going forward, I plan to share some hard-hitting facts that place the incumbent under some harsh light. Revealing these facts gives rise to my position on the issues and will effectively illustrate that it is time for a change, and that I am the clear choice for Gwinnett County School Board in District III. Here's why...
During this campaign, I have talked with hundreds of people. The more I talk with people, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize most of us—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—share the same concerns about education and have the same issues with our current representation on the school board.
We All Want Fiscal Accountability
My Facebook followers have known for some time that a coalition of government watchdog groups have 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. In July, GCPS issued a statement 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. However, they have offered no proof to support that claim. Additionally, there is no contract with performance measures, no record of this agreement in their minutes, no board vote and no way for the average citizen to find this expenditure in their budget.
When confronted with this arrangement, in the face of budget cuts and woes about lack of state funding, our board members apparently have agreed to continue this practice even as they lay off teachers in your schools. The annual cost of these two employee positions, who work on economic development – not education, is $150,000 per year. That's just wrong. I believe that the cumulative $900,000 associated with that "agreement" would be better allocated to teachers, because I know that would have a direct impact in the classroom.
Concurrently, over the past several years, Mary Kay Murphy and each of the other four board members gave the green light for $66,000 salary increases for our superintendent while teachers received none. Now, J. Alvin Wilbanks is Georgia's highest-paid school superintendent, with a compensation package that tops out at $410,000. His 2010 contract includes payments twice a year for unused leave time, a perk that's unusual among superintendents in metro Atlanta and unavailable to most teachers, at least until they retire.
Ironically, just last week, teachers from around the county asked the school board members to allow them to donate their unused sick leave to a fellow teacher so that he can be at home with his wife who is battling a life-threatening illness. Your school board's response: they "will be looking into what it is they can do." That's not enough. If Mary Kay Murphy and the school board members can justify cashing out Alvin Wilbank's unused and earned sick leave, then I believe they should be able to quickly and easily adopt a policy to allow GCPS employees to donate their unused and earned sick days to a fellow employee. Now, that would be a good idea. It's legal, costs nothing, and is already implemented in other Georgia school districts. Why the wait? I would be decisive and vote to change the current policy because that is the right thing to do.
In the coming weeks, I will highlight more examples that shed light on the current culture of fiscal irresponsibility, lack of transparency, and questionable judgment. At the same time, I will continue to share where I stand on the issues. You do have a choice this year, and you get to decide on November 6. This race isn't about Republican or Democratic ideals; it's about the future of our community.Vote for fiscal accountability. Vote for transparency. Vote Jen Falk, School Board District III.