0

Education leaders, Gwinnett legislators discuss priorities

Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks speaks to the Gwinnett legislative delegation on Tuesday morning at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks speaks to the Gwinnett legislative delegation on Tuesday morning at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

photo

State Sen. Renee Unterman speaks on Tuesday morning at an annual gathering of education and county leaders as they discuss priorities for the Gwinnett legislative delegation ahead of the upcoming General Assembly. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

LAWRENCEVILLE — As rain fell outside the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse on Tuesday morning, it gave J. Alvin Wilbanks a fresh example of how recent budget cuts have affected Gwinnett schools.

“We’ve delayed HVAC improvements, we’ve delayed carpet upgrades, we’ve delayed painting, we’ve delayed roof replacements,” said Wilbanks, the CEO/Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools. “We’re getting reminded of that more frequently as the rain falls.”

Wilbanks spoke at an annual gathering of education and county leaders with the Gwinnett legislative delegation ahead of the upcoming General Assembly session. Wilbanks reminded the lawmakers that district officials would strongly recommend any new money available be put in the Quality Basic Education formula.

Gwinnett Technical College President Sharon Bartels also outlined more details about the new $24 million campus on Old Milton Parkway in North Fulton County scheduled to open in January, 2016. Construction is scheduled to begin in April on the 100,000 square foot building that will cost $6 million annually to operate, Bartels said.

“The technical college system never gets special allocation when we open new buildings, much less new campuses,” Bartels told the lawmakers.

While the money to build the new campus building is already allocated, money for operating it isn’t, Bartels said, and she would prefer to not divert resources away from Gwinnett Tech. Bartels said the North Fulton market was desperately underserved, and Technical College System officials said they wouldn’t be serving the community if there wasn’t an opportunity for students in that area.

Bartels also showed a pie chart that said 77 percent of state education funding goes to K-12, 19 percent goes to the Board of Regents and 3.3 percent goes to technical colleges.

Georgia Gwinnett College Acting Provost Lois Richardson told lawmakers that her school is $40 per credit hour cheaper than the next closest baccalaureate institution, and $7 cheaper per credit than when the college opened in 2006.

“We are cheaper, leaner and perform better than peer schools,” Richardson said.

Frozen salaries, though, were a priority for Richardson, who said GGC would “really like to do a one percent to two percent raise.”

“It’s becoming harder to ask them to do more while inflation eats into frozen salaries,” she said.

Financial cuts in the last decade have put a squeeze on local school budgets, and in September, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute put a number on the cumulative deficit: $738 million. That number put Gwinnett County at the top of the list of Georgia school districts who have absorbed the largest cumulative shortfall in state funding, according to the QBE formula, which is based on student enrollment.

With 4,000 more students projected to be in GCPS next year, Wilbanks said the cost per student is expected to be $7,548.

Those additional students will only swell the number who are transported on buses each day. Wilbanks said in his first year as superintendent, 1996, state funds allocated for transportation were more than $6 million, while the fiscal year 2014 figure is about $5.2 million, as the district’s grown by more than twice as many students.

“That just shows you the real cost,” he said.

Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairwoman Carole Boyce asked the lawmakers to do what they could to support our children.

“We feel strongly that this is the future for all of us on many different levels,” she said.