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BOE votes to adopt a $1.76B budget

SUWANEE -- The Gwinnett County Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday evening to adopt a $1.76 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The school board also tentatively agreed to maintain the millage rate at 20.55 mills to support the budget.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost gave a brief overview of the spending plan, which is about $250 million less than the current budget, but told board members there was nothing new to report.

"That's a good thing," Cost said. "It shows we've been consistent and we've been accurate from the beginning."

The budget's general fund -- the largest fund and the one that pays for the school system's day-to-day operations -- is decreasing about $52.5 million, Cost said. The school system began the budget process with a revenue shortfall of $115 million because of cuts in state funding and a declining property tax digest.

A number of cost-saving measures were taken to balance the budget, including increasing class sizes by one student, implementing three furlough days for most employees, reducing departmental operating budgets by 7.5 percent and instituting a hiring freeze.

The largest decrease in the budget, however, is in the capital project fund. The $187 million decrease is not the result of declining revenue, Cost said. The fund is decreasing because the school system accelerated its building plan with a bond that will be repaid by the 1 percent sales tax.

Gwinnett resident Craig Lownes was the only person who addressed the school board during a public hearing on the budget, which preceded the vote.

Lownes said he knew the school system had to make cuts, and he praised their efforts to minimize the number of furlough days and program cuts. But he said he feared the reduction in state and federal funding will ultimately impact the classroom -- and not in a good way.

"I've been looking for years at your budget, and you've done a good job. This year is just extraordinary circumstances," Lownes said. "I'm very concerned (about) the impact (the cuts) will have."