State department says Gwinnett schools could be breaking law over chamber funding



LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - The state Department of Audits said the Gwinnett County School District could be breaking the law by funding the salaries for two staffers at the Chamber of Commerce.

The Gwinnett County School District has funded these positions for the past five years. But now a state agency tells Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh that could be in violation of state code.

"School budgets are tighter than ever. They question giving education funds to the Chamber of Commerce," Sabrina Smith of Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government said.

Gwinnett County Public Schools has given money to the chamber for the past five years. The district gives $150,000 to the chamber's economic initiative "Partnership Gwinnett," which covers two salaries.

Thursday, Kavanaugh learned at least one state agency said that could be against state law.

Critics like Smith believe the money should stay in the classroom. They brought their concern to the state level.

Kavanaugh obtained an email from the state Department of Audits to the Department of Education. It says in part, "Types of payroll expenditures do not appear to meet the criteria in Official Code of Georgia."

That code says, "The school funds shall be used to pay the salaries of personnel and to pay for the utilization of school facilities and for no other purpose."

The school district acknowledged it cannot legally make a monetary contribution to the chamber. But they believe paying for the salaries is within the law.

A district representative emailed Kavanaugh a statement saying, "There is significant value to the school district in ensuring the economic vitality of Gwinnett County," and that the Partnership Gwinnett initiative generated "over $800 million in its first five years."

"They have nothing in their records to show that they received one dollar as a result of this," Smith said.

The Department of Audits has asked the state attorney general weigh in on this.

The citizen coalition said if the attorney general finds that the use of money is illegal they will ask the chamber of commerce to pay it all back.