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BOE adopts tentative budget
Schools' $2 billion plan avoids layoffs

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Gwinnett County Board of Education on Tuesday tentatively adopted Gwinnett County Public Schools' proposed $2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Although the recommended total budget is increasing, the state's largest school district plans to cut its day-to-day spending, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said. The proposed $1.31 billion general fund represents a 1.1 percent decrease in expenditures over the current amended budget of nearly $1.325 billion.

"Every revenue source we have is down," Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. "We don't expect that to change anytime soon."

The school system anticipates a $25.2 million reduction in state funding, Cost said. Additionally, local revenue is expected to decrease by $16 million, $9.4 million of which is projected to decline because of lower property tax assessments.

Nevertheless, the school district anticipates it will educate even more students in the upcoming year. The student population is projected to grow by 1,744 to a total of 158,963, and nine new school buildings are expected to open this August to relieve overcrowding.

To save money, schools' personnel allotments were cut by 3 percent, which equates to 330 positions, or about $25 million, Cost said. No layoffs were necessary because of retirements, attrition and student growth. The school system will also cut district-level operating expenses by at least 5 percent across all divisions for a savings of about $9 million.

The biggest increase in spending is in the debt service fund, which is used to pay the outstanding debt associated with bonds. Nearly all of the budgeted increase is due to a $100 million principal payment on short-term bonds issued when voters approved the renewal of the 1 percent sales tax in 2007. The payment will be made with sales tax revenue that has already been collected, Cost said.

The school board will hold two public hearings on the budget before its final adoption of the spending plan. The meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. May 7 and 14 at the Instructional Support Center, 437 Old Peachtree Road N.W., Suwanee. The board anticipates voting on the final approval of the budget during its regular monthly business meeting on May 14.

The millage rate will be adopted in June, upon confirmation of the county's tax digest, but the school system is recommending the board maintain the total rate of 20.55 mills for the fifth consecutive year.

Wilbanks will briefly discuss the budget at the remaining three area board meetings, which are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Norcross High, 7 p.m. April 28 at Parkview High and 7 p.m. April 30 at Mill Creek High. All meetings will take place in the school theater.

A copy of the proposed budget is also available online at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us.