Wilbanks: GCPS facing tough times

DULUTH -- Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said this has been a very unusual school year.

Along with the flu, floods and furloughs, Wilbanks said the school system is facing some of the most challenging budgetary times he has ever experienced.

"We always say it's hard; even in the good times, it's hard. You can never fund everything you really want or maybe even need," Wilbanks said during Tuesday's area board meeting. "But we're not involved in cutting out fat. We've passed muscle. We're down to bone.

"That's a message I want to you to hear tonight, because next year, some things will be different. We cannot continue to see the sources of revenue decline and everything to continue to be as they've been."

With cuts to state funding and a declining property tax digest, the proposed $1.76 billion budget for the 2010-11 school year is 12.5 percent less than the current budget.

The bottom line, Wilbanks said, is that the school system will educate more students with less money. Gwinnett County Public Schools is expected to grow by 1,633 students next year, which would bring the district's enrollment to 160,931.

To balance the budget, the school system will be implementing several cost-saving measures, including implementing furlough days for all employees except bus drivers and school nutrition staff, foregoing salary step increases for longevity and increasing class sizes by one student.

"We will continue to manage through what we call these tough times," Wilbanks said. "... We will do that with a continued focus on what it is that we're supposed to do. We'll continue to make the main thing the main thing -- and that's teaching and learning. We'll continue to try to protect the time we have for instruction. We will continue to respect and do the best we can do with our employees."

Additionally, the school system is in the process of developing its strategic priorities for 2010-2020. The document outlines the desired qualities and characteristics of the school system.

"(Former North Carolina Gov. James Hunt) ... said, 'The thing that will really make a difference long term for the health and stability of this great nation will be the quality of education in the classrooms across America today,'" Wilbanks said. "I believe Gov. Hunt was right when he said that."

Wilbanks invited community members to submit feedback on the document, a draft of which is available online at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us. Public comments can be submitted through the end of May.

Wilbanks will discuss the strategic priorities and the current budget challenges at the remaining area board meetings this month. They will be held as follows:

* 7 p.m. Thursday at Meadowcreek High School;

* 7 p.m. Tuesday at Archer High School and

* 7 p.m. April 29 at Shiloh High School.