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School board plans millage rate hike

SUWANEE -- A unanimous vote at Thursday's board of education meeting meant formal approval of a $1.7 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

In addition, the Gwinnett County Public Schools officials tentatively adopted a millage rate increase of 1.30 mills over the previous year's rate.

For the owner of a $150,000 home in Gwinnett County, it would mean an additional increase of $76 over the previous year's school property taxes. For those who escrow property tax, it would mean an additional $6.33 per month.

Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost told the board of education during Thursday's meeting that the action was needed in order to combat a declining tax digest as well as "generate revenue and cash needed to meet debt service payments."

If approved for final adoption next month, a millage rate hike from GCPS would be the first in eight years.

"We've been through a tremendous downturn in the economy," Cost said. "You have been able to avoid this for all those years prior ... delaying what is the inevitable. For that, you should be congratulated that we didn't have to do this sooner."

The millage rate is made up of "two pieces," Cost said.

For the debt service fund -- which Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks likened to a "mortgage payment" -- Cost and his staff recommended an increase of .75 mills. For the other component of the millage rate, maintenance and operations, an increase of .55 mills was recommended.

Cost said the "same economic conditions that apply to debt service apply to M&O millage as well."

The total 1.30 increase would put the school board's millage rate at 21.85.

The tax assessor's final 2013 digest estimate will be received prior to the final millage rate adoption, which is slated for the June 20 board of education meeting.

One local parent had some questions about a possible tax hike.

"If we end up getting a millage rate increase, and tax revenues come in better (than expected), you'll end up with surplus funds," said Craig Lownes, a speaker during the public hearing.

Wilbanks responded that he "wouldn't refer to it as a surplus. I would refer to it as an overly-budgeted amount, and (if that happened) we could look at things we wouldn't have been able to do before."

Cost said that current recommendations included in plans for the FY2014 budget will only be possible through the planned millage rate increase.

The recommendations include 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 budget include the following: continuation of a district-level hiring freeze; no restoration of the 54 central office positions eliminated during FY 2013; continuation of 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 the GCPS school nutrition program, the superintendent is also 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.

Comments

BufordGuy 11 months ago

You HAVE GOT to be KIDDING me. Seriously? And people came unglued over a proposed tax increase by the BOC due to a darn good reason--a court order??? People, here are the real crooks, and they'll hide behind "it's for the kids"!!! And this moron, Wilbanks, actually STATING that if it generates more than they need they'll blow it on crap they aren't even planning instead of giving it back to the People. When are we going to say enough is enough. How many of you turned out pretty good even WITHOUT a $1.7 billion public school budget? I am so furious I can hardly see straight!

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SurelyNot 11 months ago

Crooks? Evidence. Be care...you'll end up like that Anderson guy who blamed, blamed, blamed until someone said "Enough!" Now he's paying for all the baseless accusations. It'll catch up with you.

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R 11 months ago

Before one gets too excited, I for one DON'T think a court order is a GOOD reason for tax increase - period...

UNLESS steps were taken to prevent recurrences that led to the BOC failure(s) Since thee have been so many cases that the BOC has been the center of, I really haven't seen the process changes or even simple apologies. So we will again come unglued when we hear that pending tax increase request...

Now the school system has been mum on property taxes for a much longer time, all the while screaming for E-SPLOSTs. Now that those have been re-enlisted, its time for more funds to OPERATE those enhancements. Since they insist on spending tax dollars on the Gwinnett Chamber without responding properly to public questions it is time to rattle their cage BIG time too.

Personally, I'd love to see Mr Willbanks offer to take a cut on both base and perks in order to move this mill rate proposal "forward". Freeze? Not likely

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BufordGuy 11 months ago

I hear you. I don't mean to defend the BOC's action by any means. The crap that led to the court order could have been, should have been, avoided, so no free pass. I'm just amazed at what this bunch gets by with in the name of our children. The lack of outrage has to embolden other levels of government when it comes time to grab more of our money.

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Dacula2012 11 months ago

When the housing market turns around and prices rebound, they can fund more illegitimate land purchases. There is too much fat in the budget. GCPS should do what the citizens of Gwinnett have had to do through this recession, adapt and overcome. The average taxpayer is not receiving a mandatory wage increase because the cost of living has gone up. I have been to the palace in Suwanee(GCPS HQ) and have seen the bloat and plethora of luxury cars in the parking lot. GCPS has become a jobs program for those that cannot find employment in the private sector. Where else can someone with a liberal arts degree make 100k? Why does a principal need an a/p for every 200 students, graduation coaches, reading coaches, psychologists, and a team of office personnel? It's not for the children. How about instead of increasing the mil rate, let's give every parent a voucher in the amount of per student cost, to use at any private school of their choice.

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Dubbin 11 months ago

If you want to find land purchase scandals look at the Gwinnett schools. Amazing how many tracts of land inside office parks get bought for schools isn't it?

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suedehead 11 months ago

Land purchase scandals and illegals aside, building an elementary school in an office park isn't a bad idea for counties experiencing explosive growth. Years later, when the need for space reduces, these properties can be sold and repurposed much easier than a school located within a residential area.

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SurelyNot 11 months ago

I totally agree with repurposing existing properties across GC. Kudos to the BOE for doing that i.e. Phoenix HS, Radloff Middle, and the forwarding thinking properties that are currently being redone and will house schools in the next two years. The BOE helps the blighted areas (Old Norcross Rd for ex.) of our county by using the properties judiciously.

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Dubbin 11 months ago

You both make good points but why can't we open schools in old shopping centers that need to be revitalized and could be leased? Answer: Because then the school board couldn't funnel millions to landowner buddies that way.

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SurelyNot 11 months ago

Radloff was opened in the old Gwinnett Daily Post building and Phoenix HS was the old Rose's shopping center in Lawrenceville. Others may not have been economically feasible. Don't know...There is one school being made of a repurposed building on Old Norcross...a middle school.

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BuzzG 11 months ago

Wilbanks needs more money to donate to his buddies in the Chamber of Commerce. Nice little club they have going there. Gwinnett tax payers, bend over one more time, here comes Wilbanks.

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John5214 11 months ago

Can you say "illegals". Here I go again, footing the bill for those the government pretends are not an issue. Well, they are an issue for me. I am so tired of my property taxes going up to pay for those who don't belong here. I know you are going to call me a racist. Well at least be accurate and call me a "tax poor racist".

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SurelyNot 11 months ago

Our kids have to be educated. Sorry guys. Move to another county if you think they have it better. Real estate is selling. Don't eat a Big Mac once a month. Or maybe that is don't buy a couple of packs of cigs... or lay off a couple of those house beers at Wild Wings. We're lucky to have gone 8 years without a millage increase.

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gwinnettresident1 10 months ago

Take a look at the graduation rate for Gwinnett.......You really think the kids are educated.

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Haughton 11 months ago

Of course our kids have to be educated, but those are not the kids that are benefiting the most. My wife is a teacher and can attest to the fact that she is educating alot of children that have just appeared out of nowhere over the last several years. The teachers have gone to administration and in turn they claim the higher up are hearing them. We are not just talking about Illegals that have not left, we were getting alarming numbers of more students in a recession. In April 2012, GCPS said we would see a decline in student population. That did not happen, we were over the projection for this year 2012-2013.

http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/04/09/gwinnett-schools-fewer-new-students-next-year-as-economy-takes-toll-on-growth-statewide/

Move to another county? That's whats happening. Good families are fleeing and renting their homes or selling them for cheap. Houses may be selling, but they will never fetch the prices that they use to. Rental properties are devalued and never fetch those higher property taxes. People would rather take a loss and get out while they can. Families with fewer kids are leaving, and families with more kids per household moving in. Gwinnett County, not just GCPS, is headed for serious trouble.

Wilbanks has got to realize his lucrative tax base IS moving. Gwinnett has done good to get by the last several years unlike many other counties and school systems. You cannot keep asking for more from the same people and not expect both shoes to just drop. Our familiy is considering a move. Never say never.

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Karl 11 months ago

@ Haughton--

You said, " In April 2012, GCPS said we would see a decline in student population."

No, GCPS did not say that. According to the article you yourself just provided the link to, GCPS says, "The story reports that for the first time in at least 30 years, Gwinnett expects to begin next year with fewer than 1,000 new students. The district anticipates 692 new kids in August when the 2012-2013 school year commences."

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Haughton 11 months ago

Apologies, I probably should have said "decline in projection". Here is another link to show what they claim to be final 2012 - 2013. Lots of movement and increases happens mid year as well .

District announces final enrollment count by Frank Reddy

"2,059 more students than district officials had at first forecasted for the 2012-13 academic year"

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kevin 11 months ago

Quote:"declining tax digest as well as "generate revenue and cash needed to meet debt service payments." This really says it all. They want to raise your taxes so they can borrow more debt to pay off. Doesn't this say volumes about Mr. Cost and Wilbanks? If you spend only what you have, you wouldn't need to borrow, like the Federal government does. the borrowed money cost the taxpayer a lot of interest, something that should be getting lower, not higher. Then Wilbanks says that if they collect more than expected from the tax increase, he will find other pressing things to spend the surplus on. If this isn't a coverup of the real facts, I do not know what is. These two folks need to be replaced as soon as possible so we can find people that will live within their means, period.

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peggysue 11 months ago

"Cost said that current recommendations included in plans for the FY2014 budget will only be possible through the planned millage rate increase." Please help me to understand what I have just read here. I was at a Gwinnett County park yesterday and a ton of (40+-) special education buses were dropping off students. I mean they were dropping off ONE student from each bus from the view of my perch. What the heck? It would have been cheaper to send taxis for each student. In addition, I also overheard a conversation at Target's this morning that the school food service company that supplies the schools with employees and meals was now being sourced out to Randstad (sp) temp agency for hiring employees, and not working for Gwinnett County Public Schools for the first two years. The persons talking said the county would save money as the workers hired would not have benefits for the first two years. I guess a fee to Randstad is less expensive then paying benefits. Question;is this part of getting around the Healthcare Act and not paying for healthcare??? If there is any merit to this, it is my hope that these employees are not dismissed after two years when the benefits kick in. So no more furlough days, that's nice...but the residents of the county will be paying.... And the bus thing, that just really irks me to know end. Unless those students have a catchy disease,(in that case should not be in public) they should have had more then one on each bus. Perhaps the food and transportation departments would be a good place to start investigating to see where the real cutbacks need to take place. Gwinnett County residents deserve to know what is really going on in the inside, not just what they are reporting to the public. I think I will apply for a job in the cafeteria and see what I am told. One way to get the truth.

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LarryMajor 11 months ago

The debt is comprised of bond issues which were approved by voters. After we first approved the SPLOST, we didn’t have to float bonds to build new schools and, because of maturities and refinancing, the outstanding debt has been declining. That’s why the debt service millage rate has been reduced several times since the first SPLOST and currently stands at less that half of what we used to pay.

The reality is that 1.3 mills no longer generate enough revenue to service the outstanding debt because of the decrease in property values and a rate increase is the only option. If the debt service millage rate begins to generate more than needed, the BOE will reduce the rate just like they did the last three or so times.

Concerning the M&O rate raising more than estimated, you better hope that this is exactly what will happen. If revenue is underestimated it can cause a budget deficit, which is a violation of state law and carries some pretty ugly sanctions. Some of our neighboring school systems have exactly this problem because they mishandled their budgets.

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SurelyNot 11 months ago

I appreciate Larry Major's knowledgeable answer. Thanks

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Mbjenkins 11 months ago

BOE gets pretty much all the taxes to educate children that most of us don't have, in the mean time our public safety personnel haven't had a raise in almost 6 years!!!

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OutofMoney 11 months ago

Would someone please take a look at the out of control salaries for all except school teachers. The teachers are where the children get a education not 500 people in the ISC building. Compare the salaries in the real working world to those of everyone above teachers. I wonder how many employees in the school system make over $100K. You might be surprised. Cut the salaries, quit buying land, reduce the larger overhead, and then you would not have to MAKE the public pay for your wants, and not needs.

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SurelyNot 11 months ago

Education is no different from other entities. You have to pay for solid, well-prepared leadership. It does not come free. And why should it? If you read a Harvard or Stanford study of acceptable exec salary ratio to all other's employed, you will find GC to be well within accepatable guidelines. But I get the feeling that some of those who blog do not understand that. Nor do they care. They just gripe. They want to have their children in one of the nation's best school districts but don't want to pay for it. They want good, solid teachers but don't want a career path. Good luck with that. Educators are expected to not aspire.

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Haughton 11 months ago

Ms. SurelyNot

My wife is a teacher in GCPS. Your tone suggests you are in an overly paid leadership position. Otherwise you would not be on here blogging and griping in contradiction to every other opinion on this subject. Good luck with that attitude of yours.

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motherinduluth 10 months ago

In addition to the unanimous vote (0 dissenting votes in the past 5+ years!) to increase the millage rate, the board voted (unamimously) to buy back the ISC (main office) for $52 million. This is the same building that was bought in 2004 for $12.5M, Sold to "investors" for $17M in 2005, lease payments for the past 8-9 years of $26M.

GCPS buys back its headquarters by Frank Reddy

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