Schools plan reduced budget

SUWANEE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools plans to spend less money next year to educate its growing student population, the school system's chief financial officer said.

Although the state's largest school system anticipates growing to more than 160,900 students -- an increase of about 1,600 students -- and opening eight new school buildings in August, the district's recommended $1.8 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year is 12.5 percent less than the current $2 billion spending plan.

The reduction is the result of cuts in state funding, as well as a decrease in local property tax revenue, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said.

As a result of the budget cuts, Cost said the school district will spend about $408 less per student in the 2010-11 school year. The expenditure per pupil will be $7,638, a decrease of 5.1 percent.

Cost said Gwinnett County Public Schools spent $642 per student less than the average school system in the state as of the 2009 fiscal year.

"If we were spending the average in Georgia, this budget would be $103 million higher than what it is," Cost said.

To achieve a balanced budget, the school system is implementing several cost-saving measures, including the following:

* Class-size allotments will be increased by one student per class in kindergarten through grade 12. The district will hire about 416 fewer teachers as a result, saving about $31.2 million. Despite the reduction in personnel allotment, schools will continue to receive positions to accommodate student growth, and average student/teacher ratios will remain within state maximum class-size limits.

* The budget includes three furlough days for all employees except bus drivers and school nutrition staff. The furlough days represent a projected savings of $15.6 million.

* System employees will not receive a longevity-step salary increase. Providing an increase would have added an additional cost in salaries and benefits of $16.8 million.

* A hiring freeze will be in effect for the 2010-11 school year. Only critically needed positions that the budget can continue to fund in future years will be filled as vacancies occur during the year.

* Division heads must reduce their operating expense budgets by a m

inimum of 7.5 percent from the current level -- bringing the total reduction over a two-year period to 12.5 percent -- while maintaining essential levels of service to support teaching and learning. These reductions will result in a projected savings of $7.5 million.

* About $9 million will be saved because of the school board's annual rate for employer contributions to the Gwinnett Retirement System changing from 5.98 percent to 4.88 percent, as recommended by GRS plan actuaries.

* A 6 percent reduction in the number of personnel points allotted to local schools will continue to be in effect in the 2011 fiscal year. No reduction in force among current employees was recommended.

* For the fifth consecutive year, school custodial staffing allotments were reduced by 5 percent, while still allowing for new custodial positions for new schools and additions to existing schools.

"We'll continue to look for ways to save money even within the budget we're proposing," Cost said. "We'll continue to look for ways to reduce expenditures even further, knowing the revenue picture is not as stable as we'd like it to be."