Superintendent's Update: June 10 2011

I promised to keep you informed about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s ongoing coverage of Gwinnett County Public Schools, so I am writing to inform you about another story this Sunday. The focus will be on the district’s purchase and then sale-leaseback of the Instructional Support Center (ISC). The reporter is questioning the need for the central office facility and the financing of its purchase.

This story is puzzling to me for a number of reasons. The transaction was carried out in a highly transparent manner. When we bought the ISC property in 2004 and completed the sale-leaseback in 2005, we met with local reporters, answered questions, and shared legal documents on the transactions. A number of news articles were published about the ISC purchase and sale-leaseback, and we wrote about it in school district publications as well.

J. Alvin Wilbanks,
Gwinnett County Public Schools

Based on the story, it is apparent that the reporter has been told the ISC was not needed and the financing was ill-advised. Allow me to provide some background on this issue. The district purchased the facility that would become the ISC in December 2004 to house the school system’s instructional and support personnel. During the previous two decades, our building programs had focused on providing needed classrooms. Almost 3,000 classrooms in 28 new schools and 70 school additions were provided through the 1997 and 2002 SPLOST building programs. We were catching up on our critical need for classrooms, but a great need remained for systemwide facilities to serve students in programs that focused on discipline, special education, and technical education. Additionally, the district severely lacked office space for personnel who supported the schools, classrooms for staff development, and adequate meeting rooms. School support staff were scattered across the county in five different locations, impacting efficiency, collaboration, and communication. The district had long discussed the need for a centralized facility for support personnel. Acquiring the ISC provided that facility without affecting any planned classroom construction.

As for the financing option we used, it was a prudent transaction that offered a number of benefits for taxpayers and the district. Despite our best efforts to educate the reporter about the sale-leaseback, his story indicates that he never “got it.”
· The three schools funded from the ISC sale-leaseback proceeds (Mulberry ES, Lovin ES, and Patrick ES) were not included in SPLOST II because they were not identified needs at the time that program was developed. Remember, SPLOST II ran from 2002-2007 and the project list had to be identified in the years leading up to 2002 based on overcrowding at the time. Needless to say, growth in our county did not stop. The areas where those three schools are located-- the Dacula, Grayson and Mill Creek areas-- were some of our fastest growing clusters during this time. In fact, Cooper ES which was relieved by Lovin ES was a part of the SPLOST II program. Mulberry, Lovin, and Patrick elementary schools would have been among the first projects in the SPLOST III program, but we were able to get a jumpstart on them due to the ISC financing.
· It is an undisputed fact that the revenue for the SPLOST II program was coming in below projection. In fact, projects were at risk of not being completed if something was not done. The $300 million construction program referred to in the article is actually $300 million in certificates of participation bonds that the district obtained to complete the remaining SPLOST II projects that would not have been funded due to the shortfall.
· The "cash on hand" referred to in the article was budgeted for projects already underway. In essence, the ISC allowed us to do more in terms of school construction in a time when classrooms were desperately needed. The three new elementary schools financed through the ISC sale-leaseback relieved three elementary schools that were serving students in 86 trailer classrooms.

What makes this story so disturbing is that much of it is based on allegations made by a former school district employee who proved to be dishonest and unethical. He resigned but before his employment ended, he had to be escorted out of the ISC by a police officer. We subsequently investigated a number of issues that were brought forward about this employee. Had I known then what the investigation uncovered, he would not have been given an opportunity to resign but would have been terminated for cause. The reporter was provided this information through an open records request. The results of the investigation prove that Mr. Weiler was unprofessional and unethical. A credible source? Absolutely not. Nevertheless, comments by an unprincipled individual were considered by the reporter more reliable than the information we provided

In addition, a major problem with the story is that much of the information is taken out of context and does not include the information we provided the reporter - that would make for a very different story outcome. In the links below you will find the answers that we provided the reporter on this topic.
Responses sent 4-28-2011 pdf
Responses sent 5-13-2011 pdf
Responses sent 6-10-2011 pdf
Additional responses sent 6-10-2011 pdf

Click below for previous messages on this issue:
- Superintendent's Update: May 21, 2011
- Superintendent's Update- April 30, 2011
- Superintendent recommends and Gwinnett County Board of Education approves hiring of third party to investigate land acquisitions by GCPS
- A message from the Superintendent- April 1, 2011
- A message from CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks- March 4, 2011