Board of Education paints dire financial picture

SUWANEE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools is bracing for a looming financial crisis, school board members said Thursday.

Board of Education member Daniel Seckinger said he doesn't want to sound like an alarmist, but it's imperative that the community understand how dire the current economic situation is, even for a financially sound organization like the school system.

"We're reaching a critical point where we can't do any more with less," Seckinger said.

During the school board's work session Thursday afternoon, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said the school system's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, prepared by an independent auditor, shows the district has managed its resources wisely and made sound financial decisions to weather the current economic downturn.

There is a reason the school system implemented cost-saving measures such as furloughs instead of using its fund balance to make up for cuts in state funding, Cost said.

The school system typically collects property taxes between June and September, but until that money comes in, the district still has to meet payroll, which amounts to about $82 million a month, Cost said.

"We came within $1.5 million of running out of cash last year," Cost said.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told members of the Teachers' Advisory Council that he can't make any promises regarding more furlough days. All school system employees, except school bus drivers and cafeteria workers, will take three unpaid days off next school year.

"For me to sit here today and tell you that there won't be any more furlough days next year, I don't know that," he said.

Wilbanks assured the teachers the school system's cost-saving measures are being implemented throughout the district, not just the classrooms.

School board members also voiced their appreciation for the educators.

"We highly value our teaching force, without a doubt," school board member Carole Boyce said, "but when things are looking bleak, it's hard to remember that."