BOE expected to adopt $1.8B budget

SUWANEE - The Gwinnett County Board of Education is expected to vote Thursday to adopt a $1.859 billion budget for the 2008-09 school year.

Two people attended a public hearing Monday night, during which Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost gave an overview of what he called "an investment plan for teaching and learning in Gwinnett County Public Schools."

Cost said the budget's general fund is growing by $42 million because of a projected enrollment growth of 4,000 students.

Suwanee resident Craig Lownes asked how the district can be sure of its projection, given that the district's enrollment in September was about 3,500 students short of the projection.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said last year was an anomaly. The school district had grown by more than 7,000 students for four consecutive years, but that growth slowed with the downturn in the housing market.

Wilbanks said the school district doesn't have any crystal balls to tell the future, adding, "If we did, I'm not sure if we'd have anyone qualified to read it."

He said the district will likely grow by a couple thousand students this summer.

School board vice chairman Daniel Seckinger said district officials have factored current economic conditions into their enrollment projections for the upcoming academic year.

Lownes, who has two children at Walnut Grove Elementary School, said he frequently attends school board meetings because he feels it's his "civic duty."

"They're spending two billion of our dollars," Lownes said. "Number one, somebody needs to come and ask them questions to hold them accountable ... and number two, I want to show some appreciation of the work they do."

Cost said the upcoming budget is tight, and only the most needed improvements will be funded. Those initiatives include at least a 2.5 percent pay raise for all employees, the opening of three new schools and three replacement buildings, and the full implementation of a benchmark assessment program.

The school district plans to keep the millage rate at 20.55 mills for the fourth consecutive year. Three public hearings will be held in June before the school board adopts the millage rate.

A copy of the proposed budget is available on the school district's Web site at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Gwinnett County Board of Education's monthly business meeting

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Instructional Support Center, 437 Old Peachtree Road N.W., Suwanee

Note: A public hearing on the school system's 2008-09 budget will be held in conjunction with the business meeting.

For more information: View the agenda online at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us/Board.nsf/.