School board approves $2 billion budget

SUWANEE - The Gwinnett County Board of Education unanimously approved a $2 billion budget for the school system during its regular monthly business meeting Thursday evening.

Although the total budget is increasing, the state's largest school district plans to cut its day-to-day spending in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said. The $1.31 billion general fund, which includes instructional services, school administration, maintenance and transportation, represents a 1.1 percent decrease in expenditures over the current amended budget of nearly $1.325 billion.

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 schools and one replacement building 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. 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 also tentatively approved maintaining the millage rate at 20.55 total mills for the fifth consecutive year. The board is expected to adopt the millage rate in June, upon confirmation of the county's tax digest.