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Approval expected on schools' $2B budget

SUWANEE - The Gwinnett County Board of Education is expected this week to adopt a $2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The school board, which tentatively adopted the spending plan on April 21, will vote on the budget Thursday at its regular monthly business meeting. A public hearing will be held in conjunction with the 7 p.m. meeting.

Although the proposed budget is increasing by $102 million over Gwinnett County Public Schools' current amended budget of $1.898 billion, the school district plans to cut its day-to-day spending, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said last month. The general fund, which includes instructional services, school administration, central support services, maintenance and operations, and transportation, is decreasing 1.1 percent to $1.31 billion.

To save money, schools' personnel allotments were cut by 3 percent, which equates to 330 positions, or about $25 million, Cost said. No layoffs will be necessary because of retirements, attrition and enrollment 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 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. Enrollment is projected to grow by 1,744 to a total of 158,963 students, 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, Cost said.

The school board is also expected to tentatively adopt the millage rate to support the budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning July 1. The recommended rate of 19.25 mills for maintenance and operations and 1.3 mills for debt service - 20.55 total mills - will be the same for the fifth consecutive year, if approved.

The final adoption of the millage rate will take place in June.

To view the complete agenda for Thursday's meeting, visit www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us/board.nsf.