Bill making Gwinnett school board elections nonpartisan advances

Gwinnett County voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Shorty Howell Park Activity Building in Duluth on the last day of early voting on Oct. 30, 2020. On Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, a Georgia Senate committee approved a proposal by GOP Sen. Clint Dixon, of Gwinnett, to make that county's school board elections nonpartisan. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Gwinnett County voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Shorty Howell Park Activity Building in Duluth on the last day of early voting on Oct. 30, 2020. On Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, a Georgia Senate committee approved a proposal by GOP Sen. Clint Dixon, of Gwinnett, to make that county's school board elections nonpartisan. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

A Republican state senator’s proposal to make school board elections in Gwinnett County nonpartisan was approved 4-2 by a Senate committee Thursday.

The legislation by Gwinnett Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, comes after control of his county’s school board flipped to Democrats following many years of Republican control.

About 40% of Georgia’s 180 school boards hold partisan elections, meaning voters know the political parties of candidates. The rest, using a law that allows for local control, have opted against it.

Gwinnett moved toward Democrats in 2016, voting for Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid and then for Stacey Abrams’ 2018 campaign for governor. The loss of Republican control over the school board led to the ouster last year of longtime Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks almost a year before his contract was to end.

Gwinnett County school board member Tarece Johnson spoke against Senate Bill 369 on Thursday. She questioned its timing after her party’s victories in Gwinnett and said it would result in lower voter turnout since nonpartisan elections are held months before general elections.

She said SB 369 is a GOP push to “usurp” power, “targeting people of color and attempting to suppress their vote, erase their historical truths and censor diverse perspectives.” Johnson said she was speaking for herself rather than as the Gwinnett school board’s new chair.

Gwinnett parent Michael Rudnick spoke in favor of the legislation.

“Our leadership is the poorest it’s ever been in the history of this school system,” he said. “Teachers are leaving in droves in our county, and that’s because of our school board, plain and simple.”