Schools: Funding
bonds up for vote

LAWRENCEVILLE - Voters will decide Tuesday if Gwinnett County Public Schools can issue general obligation bonds school district officials have said are needed to continue its construction program.

The county school district is seeking to sell up to $750 million in bonds to fund Phase II of "The Plan," a list of construction projects that officials say will help relieve overcrowding in the state's largest school district. The money will be used to build eight new schools and 10 additions, as well as upgrade the technology in existing classrooms.

Gwinnett Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks has said the bonds can be repaid without increasing property taxes. The Gwinnett County Board of Education plans to keep the debt service portion of local property taxes at its current rate of 1.3 mills, instead of decreasing the tax as debt is paid down.

The Gwinnett County Council of PTAs passed a resolution in December in support of the bond referendum. A citizens' group has also been campaigning to encourage support.

"I encourage Gwinnett residents to go to the polls on Tuesday and to vote yes on the General Obligation bond referendum," said Mike Levengood, the chairman of the Gwinnett Kids Count 2008 Education Bond Campaign Committee. "Gwinnett's school system continues to grow by thousands of students each year. A yes vote will help secure the funds needed to build more than 500 new classrooms, upgrade technology and maintain Gwinnett's high standard of education. We can do all of this without a tax increase so it's important that we support this referendum."

Buford residents are also being asked to vote on a school bond referendum.

The city school district wants to issue $10 million in bonds to build a multi-purpose facility that would house a banquet hall, an arena and administrative offices, Buford Superintendent Geye Hamby said.

Hamby said Buford residents won't see a tax increase because the school district plans to repay the bonds with "local funds that are available to the public."

Buford residents who wish to vote on their school bond referendum will have to cast their ballots Tuesday at City Hall at 95 Scott St. They will be unable to vote on the county school bond referendum, said Lynn Ledford, Gwinnett's elections director.