Gwinnett school board race may make history

Gwinnett’s school system is Georgia’s largest with about 180,000 students. It has a budget over $2 billion and more than 22,000 employees.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education may get a nonwhite member for the first time in its history.

Longtime incumbents in District Two and District Four aren’t seeking re-election, and two white Republicans and two black Democrats in each district will face each other in the May 22 primary election.

There has never been a elected official of color even though school data show the district’s racial breakdown is 31.9 percent black, 30.4 percent Hispanic, 23 percent white, 10.6 percent Asian and 3.9 percent other.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and Georgia NAACP filed a lawsuit over a year ago arguing that Gwinnett’s commission and school board districts are drawn in a way that dilutes minority voters’ influence. Most Gwinnett residents are not white, the suit argues, but all four county commission districts and all but one school board district have majority-white populations.

District 2 primary candidates are Republicans Stephen Knudsen and Carol Cynthia Ranft and Democrats Wandy Taylor and Donald May.

In District 4 it’s Republicans Charles “Chuck” Studebaker and Randall Lee and Democrats Everton Blair and Mark Williams.

Gwinnett’s school system, Georgia’s largest with about 180,000 students, a budget over $2 billion and more than 22,000 employees, is the county’s largest employer and one of the largest in Georgia.

All eight candidates have been invited to a candidate forum hosted by Gwinnett SToPP and Find Your Voice: Duluth. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. May 7 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center Auditorium, 75 Langley Drive, Lawrenceville. Organizers have asked attendees to register at http://bit.ly/GCSBForum or GwinnettSToPP.org.

The AJC asked the candidates what they hope to accomplish if they are elected. Here are their responses:

District Two

Steve Knudsen (R)

I hope that I can help GCPS continue to achieve excellence across the county. Educated children make productive citizens and caring communities. That helps everyone in Gwinnett County maintain a great quality of living. If I could be a part of improving an already great school system I would be very satisfied.

Donald May (D)

Every student is gifted; we need to find the ways to tap into their gifts. I have had countless conversations with students, teachers and administrators in our school system and one general theme rang out: We must work to remove the barriers to learning. Two barriers are: 1. Frustrated teachers: Teachers must be empowered, respected and paid accordingly. We have some great teachers, however they are constantly being asked to do more with less, this can bring on frustration. 2. Keep students excited about learning: We must continuously look for ways to keep our students focused and engaged in their education.

Carol Ranft (R)

If elected, my primary focus will be to secure full funding for public education every year. The budget that Governor Deal signed represents the first time in 16 years that the state has funded their own formula for public education. Over $880 million in cuts represents the inability to reduce class sizes, provide additional support for school safety, implement intervention programs designed to increase graduation rates etc. While money doesn’t solve problems, it certainly helps to fund the solutions that address the root causes of them.

Wandy W. Taylor

If elected, I hope to help Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) transition from being a “very good” to a “great” school system. Achieving greatness hinges on the school system’s success with meeting the needs of ALL children, regardless of their cultural, religious, or socioeconomic background. As a member of the board, I will be a persistent “voice” for ALL children and serve as a constant reminder to my fellow board members that achieving “greatness” is predicated on our ability to educate our most challenging students.

District 4

Everton Blair Jr. (D)

I will ensure that there is a strong presence of teacher and student voice in our decision making as a school system, and I will improve the communication and transparency between the board and the community. I will support increasing access to competitive options and programs in our school system and increasing the investment in opportunities that give our teachers the time and space to grow and to teach, with less time testing and doing administrative tasks.

Randall Lee (R)

As a member of the Gwinnett School Board, I will seek the support of all stakeholders as we focus our efforts on teaching and learning. We must all work together so that we have safe and secure schools. We must provide the necessary staff and resources for all of our students. In addition, we must allocate financial resources so that our students will be college and/or career ready upon graduation.

Chuck Studebaker (R)

Current and past boards have done great things in the past few years. I want to continue our tradition of excellence. Students need to have a clear understanding of our country’s history. Civics is a big part of that. I hope to push those ideas forward. We also need to continue to prepare our students for what comes next whether that is college, technical school or the workforce at large. We need to to grow and encourage the next generation.

Mark A. Williams (D)

I hope to assist with keeping the district moving in the right direction, while making adjustments where needed.

In Other News