Next GCPS budget to see bump
General fund may be $50M more than this year's total

SUWANEE - Although revenues have decreased, Gwinnett County Public Schools anticipates having a record-high operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks said he anticipates the general fund will be about $1.35 billion, a slight increase from the $1.3 billion in this year's spending plan.

While details of the plan will not be available until April, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said the school system plans to ask the Gwinnett County Board of Education to maintain the current maintenance and operations millage rate of 19.25.

Although the district has no plans to lay off employees, implement furloughs or drastically cut services such as transportation, some spending reductions will be necessary to balance the budget, Wilbanks said.

"We will be looking at a number of ways we can save money," he said during Thursday's school board work session.

For example, the school system will not be able to purchase as many textbooks as it would like to have, he said. Some maintenance projects, such as repainting schools, will have to be delayed or scaled back.

Wilbanks credited the district's financial viability with its fiscal responsibility, coupled with its AAA bond interest rating from two agencies.

But if economic conditions continue to worsen and revenue continues to fall, the school system may have to make deeper cuts in the future, Wilbanks warned.

"We hope we aren't mean, but we have tried to be lean," Wilbanks said.

The district will continue to manage its resources wisely and make sound financial decisions, said Cost, who presented the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, an independent audit of the 2008 fiscal year.

The financial report included a 10-year summary of the school system's fund balance. Cost noted a dip in the unreserved fund balance in 2003 happened when the state started making austerity cuts. Since then, the school system "has started steering in the right direction, knowing we had to maintain a healthy fund balance."

Cost said the district had a strong fund balance at the end of the 2008 fiscal year - about $135 million, enough to cover about 10 percent of the school system's operating expenses.

"We do have challenges but we're meeting those challenges and will continue to meet those challenges moving forward," Cost said.