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School budget hearing set for Thursday

SUWANEE - The first of two public hearings on Gwinnett County Public Schools' proposed $2 billion budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education is expected to adopt the budget May 14, following the second public hearing, which will be held in conjunction with the board's monthly business meeting.

According to the agenda for Thursday's meeting, school system officials will present an overview of the budget before the Gwinnett County Board of Education hears questions and comments from the public. The meeting will be held at the Instructional Support Center at 437 Old Peachtree Road N.W. in Suwanee.

Although the total recommended spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is increasing by about $102 million from the current amended budget, the school system plans to cut spending in its general fund, which includes day-to-day operations and instructional services. The proposed general fund - the largest in the budget - is $1.31 billion, a 1.1 percent decrease from the current plan.

The school system anticipates a $25.2 million reduction in state funding. 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 schools and one replacement building are expected to open this August to relieve overcrowding.

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.

The millage rate to support the budget 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.

To view the proposed budget, visit the school system's Web site at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us.

SideBar: If you go

· What: Public hearings on Gwinnett County Public Schools' proposed budget

· When: 7 p.m. Thursday and May 14

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