Gwinnett County Public Schools is not planning to furlough or let any employees go because of cuts to education funding coming from the state level, district Chief Financial Officer Joe Heffron told the Gwinnett County Board of Education Thursday night.
Heffron told the school board that the state budget is expected to include cuts across all state agencies because of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic’s impact on state revenues, and that negotiations in the legislature had reduced the cut to 11%.
“We will be receiving less state funding next (fiscal) year (and) that is primarily due to (or) created by the health pandemic,” Heffron said. “The state will have less revenue next year to allocate across state agencies. They have passed along a cut to state agencies. QBE is included in that and the Department of Education is passing on somewhere around 10 or 11% for us.”
The cuts included in the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget means any agency, including local school systems, that rely on funding included in that budget will have to tighten their belts to adjust for the next year.
In the case of education, that’s expected to be a reduction of about $1.05 billion to the state’s Quality Basic Education formula which is used to determine how money local school systems get from the state.
Gwinnett is expecting to see its state funding reduced by $118 million because of the austerity cuts state legislators are including in the budget.
Gwinnett County Public Schools is planning a nearly $2.35 billion budget for fiscal year 2021. The district anticipates serving about 181,250 students during the 2020-2021 school year.
Heffron said the school system plans to use money from federal CARES Act funds and the school system’s “rainy day” reserve fund to cover the shortfall created by the reduction in state funding. The reserve fund has been built up gradually over the last half decade to help the district get through an emergency.
That will allow the district to not only keep its employees, but also offer a step increase in salaries for employees who have not already reached the maximum step on the district’s pay scale.
But, there will be no other bells or whistles in the district’s proposed budget.
“(There are) no cuts to our services or positions,” Heffron said. “It’s a continuation budget (and) it shows no furlough days. However, (there will be) no improvements this year, but we did include a step increase for those eligible employees.
“And, if you look at our fund balance, we are not using our operating fund balance to balance our budget, which weighs very heavily with the rating agencies.”
Since CARES Act funding is a one-time funding allocation from the federal government, the $32.3 million in CARES Act funding that the district will be using to cover the shortfall in the fiscal year 2021 budget will have to be replaced elsewhere in the fiscal year 2022 budget if funding from the state doesn’t return closer to normal next year.
Heffron said additional money from the “rainy day” reserve funds may have to be used if that happens.
The district’s plan is to keep its millage rate the same for fiscal year 2021, but that doesn’t mean property owners won’t see changes in how much they pay in school taxes on their property tax bill. If the value of their property has increased, they could still end up paying more in taxes even though the millage rate stays the same.
The proposed millage rate for Gwinnett County Public Schools is 21.6 mills.
The proposed budget and millage rate were adopted Thursday night, but the public will have an opportunity to weigh in before final adoption takes place.
Two public hearings will be held in July. One will be held at 7 p.m. on July 9, and the other will be held at 6p.m. on July 16, at the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instruction Support Center.
A final vote on the budget is expected to take place July 16, and a final vote on the millage rate is expected to take place in August, although the exact date was not specified.
“I prefer to refer to the fiscal year budget as our investment for the citizens of Gwinnett County in our 181,268 students that will attend Gwinnett County Public Schools during the 2020-21 school year,” Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the school board. “This budget will provide the needed funds to provide a quality and effective education for our students.”