SUWANEE -- Describing the local district's projected Fiscal Year 2014 budget, Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost said Gwinnett County Public Schools is in better shape than the current year, "but we're not out of the woods."
During a meeting with the media Tuesday, Cost explained that within the framework of the total projected $1.7 billion FY 2014 budget, overall, "declines are getting less, which means things are getting better, but we're still losing local revenue, still having austerity reductions from the state, and the local tax revenue is decreasing less."
At a decrease of $12.8 million over the current year's budget, the total budget accounts for special revenue, capital projects, debt service, enterprise and internal service funds.
Within the total budget is also $1.2 billion earmarked for the general fund or the operations budget. The projection for the general fund is an increase of $29.7 million over the current year.
The projected FY 2014 budget included "recommended improvements," an uncommon line item within the past several years.
Recommendations included the elimination of all furlough days, which will cost $8.6 million and the addition of 18 additional school resource officers -- one for every cluster -- at $1.7 million.
Measures recommended by the superintendent to balance the projected FY 2014 budget include the continuation of a district-level hiring freeze; no restoration of the 54 central office positions eliminated during FY 2013; continuation of the district-level operating budget cuts from the past four years; carryover expenditures included in the FY 2013 mid-term budget; and class size ratios for teacher "point" allotments will remain the same for the 2013-14 school year.
In order to balance the enterprise fund, which reflects GCPS school nutrition program, the superintendent is recommending a 25-cent increase in meal prices next year. New lunch prices will be $2.25 for elementary and $2.50 for middle and high school. The prices are still "well within the metro area averages," Cost said.
Cost estimated an additional decline of 2.5 percent or $10.3 million at the current millage rate of 19.25 mills. "It's a much slower decline than what we've seen in the past, which we think is a positive."
Over the past five years, a 26-percent decline in tax digest value has meant a loss of $143 million in annual property tax revenue.
Cost said it's "too early to talk about a millage rate. We won't know until May when the county gives us their digest."
It's been eight years since the district has approved a millage rate increase.
The district's equalization grant funding from the state is projected to increase by $21.8 million over the previous year for a total of about $65 million for FY 2014. It's due, Cost said, to "our local property tax digest wealth continuing to decline more rapidly than the state-wide average."
Cost said current projections predict an enrollment increase of 1,690 students for a total of 166,667 students, which would mean the district would be spending $7,548 per student, an increase of $102 per student over the previous year.
Nothing is yet set in stone. The Gwinnett County Public Schools board of education plans to approve a version of the budget in May. On Saturday, elected leaders and district staff plan to hold a work session to discuss details of the document.