Two Gwinnett County school board races draw seven candidates

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Five are running for open seat; Knudsen faces reelection challenge

Five candidates are vying to fill Everton Blair’s seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Education, while Steve Knudsen will face a single challenger.

The field of candidates for the two school board seats up for election was established at the end of the qualifying period last week.

In past years, most candidates would spend March, April and May gearing up for a party primary. But this year, there are no primaries because of new legislation that made Gwinnett’s school board elections nonpartisan.

That means ballots won’t have any signifiers of candidates’ political parties. So the candidates will be pursuing support from all eligible voters in their respective districts for a general election that will be May 24 rather than Nov. 8.

Last month, Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Republican-backed bill into law. They pushed for the change after Democrats became the school board majority last year. Within months, they voted for an early end to the contract of longtime Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

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Blair announced in November that he would not run for reelection and later launched a campaign for state school superintendent. He’s since suspended his campaign.

Blair’s departure from District 4 in the southeastern part of Gwinnett drew five candidates of varying experiences and backgrounds to the race.

Kelly Kautz will be a familiar name to some voters. She served on the Snellville City Council for nine years and was the city’s first female mayor. She is an attorney, working with and advocating for abused and neglected children in Gwinnett County Juvenile Court. She has a child in elementary school.

Adrienne Simmons has spent 20 years working in public education, according to her website. She started as a teacher, became an administrator and has worked for five years in the Georgia Department of Education. Simmons holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership. She has two children in Gwinnett schools.

Alexis Williams states on her campaign website that she has volunteered in her children’s schools and served on the Parent Teacher Student Association. She earned a master’s degree in education and a law degree. She is a mother of six with three children still in Gwinnett schools.

Candidates Tony Sellers and Matt Sones have qualified for the race. The Georgia elections website states Sellers is retired and Sones is a policy analyst.

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Knudsen, who is the school board’s vice chair, is running for a second term in District 2, which occupies much of the northern and central portions of the county.

He ran as a Republican in 2018, winning by a narrow margin. Knudsen is president of a manufacturing company and has four adult children who graduated from Gwinnett schools. He touts the board’s work over the past three years, guiding the district through the pandemic and the transition between superintendents.

Michael Rudnick is challenging Knudsen for his seat. Rudnick has spoken several times at school board meetings, advocating for masks to be optional and for programs for special needs students, like his son. Rudnick is the vehicle fleet director for Lawrenceville, according to his website.