Schools propose $2B budget

SUWANEE - Gwinnett County Public Schools officials have proposed a $2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a $102 million increase over the current spending plan.

But because of anticipated state funding cuts and the projected decline in the local property tax digest, the general fund - which finances the primary day-to-day operations of the district - will decrease by $14.5 million, or about 1.1 percent, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said.

The millage rate of 20.55 will remain unchanged for the fifth consecutive year, Cost said. Because of the current housing market, the school system anticipates losing $9.4 million in property tax.

The biggest increase in spending will be in the debt services fund, Cost said. Nearly all of the budgeted increase is due to the first principal payment of $100 million on the short-term bonds issued when voters approved the 1 percent education special purpose local option sales tax in 2007. The bonds advanced funding for school construction projects and will be repaid through collected sales tax revenue.

In the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, about $5.6 million is needed to help open nine new schools and one replacement building this August and support a growing student population expected to increase by 1,744.

To save money, the school district reduced schools' personnel "points" - an allotment used for hiring - for the upcoming year by an additional 3 percent, which represents about 330 positions, or $24.7 million. Many teachers were displaced from their positions and had to transfer to another school, but no layoffs were recommended, Cost said.

Personnel points were cut by 3 percent seven years ago when the state began its austerity cuts, and that reduction has not been restored, Cost said.

Additionally, employees will not receive a cost-of-living raise, which is in line with the governor's recommendation. All eligible employees, however, will receive longevity step increases in salary.

The proposed budget will be available for public review online at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us. Two public hearings are planned next month before the Gwinnett County Board of Education formally adopts the budget.