“I’m extremely disappointed that the need for one year of expediting the dismissal of this contract outweighs the hundreds of thousands of dollars it’s going to cost the county,” Rudnick said. “You have handicapped this county and your search will provide a less than satisfactory resolution for one million people and 200,000 children in this county.”
Wilbanks’ contract allows the board to unilaterally terminate his employment without cause as long as he gets “all of the aggregate salary he would have earned” until the end of the contract or a year’s salary, whichever is less.
The payout is about three-tenths of a percent of the school system’s proposed $1.8 billion operating budget for next fiscal year. For Brian Westlake, president of the Gwinnett County Association of Educators and a frequent critic of Wilbanks, the expense is worthwhile if the new superintendent better supports students and staff.
“What he’s being paid for that period dwarfs in comparison to the budget for Gwinnett County Public Schools,” Westlake said. “You’re starting a year sooner and I think starting a year sooner makes a big difference in the life of a child.”
Board member Tarece Johnson said the district would not suffer financially for Wilbanks’ payout. She joined Board Chair Everton Blair and Vice Chair Karen Watkins in voting to end Wilbanks’ contract early “for the board’s convenience.” They praised Wilbanks, but also called for greater equity in Gwinnett schools.
“There’s always a cost-benefit to everything,” Johnson said. “We also have opportunities to create new successes built on the foundation he set.”
Wilbanks has led the Gwinnett district for 25 years, the longest tenure in the country among superintendents of large school systems.