With little fanfare, Gwinnett BOE adopts $2 billion budget

With little fanfare, and just two speakers at an evening public hearing, the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday adopted its 2017 budget.

SUWANEE — With little fanfare, and just two speakers at an evening public hearing, the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday adopted its 2017 budget.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Joe Heffron gave a brief overview of the $1.987 billion budget, which is proposed to include a 3 percent raise for employees, including 1 percent that will come in June in a lump sum payout. The remaining will come as a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment during the 2016-17 school year. The salary scale for teachers is also moving up one year.

The School Board also tentatively adopted the millage rate to remain 21.85.

Resident David Hancock suggested that the School Board consider getting away from federal funding, which he noted in recent years was less than 10 percent of the budget.

“I would encourage you, every year or a couple years, the less federal money you can take, obviously the less issues that would come up,” he said.

School Board Chairman Dr. Robert McClure agreed with Hancock’s point and said there’s serious questions about taking federal money and if not, whether that would relieve the school of any regulations.

Heffron said while things have improved since the lowest points of the Great Recession fallout of 2009, there is more room to go to recover from overall budget cuts. The school district also has added about 20,000 students since then.

Heffron said this budget also includes growth for new students who will enroll in two new schools in August. Opening of those new schools — Baldwin Elementary and Coleman Middle — means the district plans to hire 159 more teachers.

First-year teacher salary is up slightly over last year to $41,849. The daily rate for regular substitute teachers will rise from $85 to $87 and for long-term substitutes from $95 to $97.

For the third straight year, the Gwinnett County tax digest is increasing, this time by 5 percent for an additional $23.3 million. However, heath care costs for non-certificated employees for the district have moved from $596 per employee to $746 in January. They’re projected to increase to $846 by next January. Benefit costs for non-certificated employees, typically cafeteria workers, bus drivers and central office personnel, costs $9 million annually for 6,200 employees.

The district will receive an additional $30.8 million from the state because of a decrease in austerity reductions. But the state money will also drop by $29.8 million because of a decrease in equalization grant funding of $19 million and a $10.8 million increase in the local five-mill share. That means the district nets $1 million.

Gwinnett Daily Post news reporter.