PROGRESS: Budget cuts, more students force GCPS to do more with less

Staff Photo: Frank Reddy . About 30 students at Alford Elementary meet bi-weekly to discuss the newsletter, which prints once every nine weeks.

Staff Photo: Frank Reddy . About 30 students at Alford Elementary meet bi-weekly to discuss the newsletter, which prints once every nine weeks.

SUWANEE -- Despite continued budget cuts and fewer employees over the past several years, officials with the local school district said they strive to keep up the same quality of education for students who attend Gwinnett County Public Schools.

According to district records from the 2009-10 academic year, GCPS was operating with a $1.310 billion general fund budget, with 11,282 classroom teachers and 159,296 students.

Compare that to data collected during the current 2012-13 year: a $1.205 billion general fund budget; 10,261 teachers; and 164,976 students.

"Even though we've been increasing in the number of students every year, we've seen a decrease in the number of other positions," said Steve Flynt, associate superintendent for the division of school leadership and operations. "(Enrollment) is not growing at nearly the rate it once was, but we are still a growing system."

Rather than layoffs, the number of district employees has decreased through attrition. When employees leave to quit or retire, many of the positions are absorbed and go unfilled. Flynt said it's an "across the board" measure.

As a result of having fewer teachers, Flynt said that the district has increased class sizes. Creative solutions also provide opportunities to meet the needs of students, he said.

"Teachers have been stepping up and doing everything they can to support the students they have," he said. "It's not an easy task, and it continues to get more and more difficult ... with less money in the general fund."

Added Flynt: "How do you combat that? It happens in individual classrooms everyday. We would be remiss if we didn't say it was our teaching corps that has stepped up to do what's needed."

New technology, Flynt said, has also helped.

"We're looking at what we can do with eCLASS, for instance, over the next couple years to use technology as a tool to take some of that workload off those teachers. That can help us in a number of ways if used effectively."

Funded by the most recent iteration of the education special purpose local option sales tax -- which voters approved in November 2011 eCLASS (Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System) was part of planned technology upgrades earmarked in the ballot language.

While all GCPS facilities will eventually use eCLASS, 33 schools in the district are currently piloting the initiative. They include classrooms in the Archer, Berkmar, Duluth, North Gwinnett and Shiloh clusters.

Aside from technology improvements, other measures include using other staff to help teachers where possible.

"Support positions like our counselors and our media specialists are teaching special classes during the school day," Flynt said. "We're stretching as far as we can with every possible position."

Added Flynt: "Any time you're faced with cutbacks, you have to look at making the best decisions ... you're looking at where can we stretch, and making each position as effective as possible."