Gwinnett County Public Schools is currently planning to scale back its overall millage rate by nearly three-quarters of a mill this year.

The total proposed millage rate of 20.65 mills — which is 0.7 mills lower than the 2021 rate — was tentatively adopted on Thursday night in conjunction with the board’s final adoption of GCPS’ $2.8 billion fiscal year 2023 budget. Final adoption of the district’s millage rate is set to take place in July.

The district had initially planned to keep the millage rate the same as it was in 2021 on the understanding that the tax digest had only grown by about 5%. Superintendent Calvin Watts said the district learned from Gwinnett’s Tax Assessor’s Office, after property value assessments were mailed out in April, that the growth was significantly larger than expected, however.

That led to the district’s decision to tentatively lower the millage rate.

“Roughly 83% of the notices informed owners that their appraised value was adjusted for market conditions in response to real estate market changes,” Superintendent Calvin Watts said. “In early May, the district received an update from the tax assessors office. Based on this data, the county-wide tax digest will be increasing close to 25%.”

The 20.65-mills total millage rate includes a 19.2 mills maintenance and operations millage rate and a 1.45 mills debt service millage rate.

Although the millage rate is decreasing, GCPS Chief Financial Officer Joe Heffron said it will not go down enough to reach the full rollback rate, which is the millage rate that would produce the exact same amount of money in revenues as the previous year’s rate.

Heffron was not able to immediately provide the rollback rate number after the school board meeting on Thursday.

But, since the district is not going all the way to the rollback rate, it will hold public hearings on the proposed millage rate. Actually, it doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

“Even if you reduce the millage rate some, if you don’t roll it all the way back, you still have to hold the three public hearings if you don’t go all the way to the rollback rate,” Heffron said. “If you don’t go all the way back to the rollback rate, you have to advertise it as a tax increase. That’s the law.”

Why is it considered a tax increase if the millage rate is going down, though? Well, the millage rate is the property tax accessed on the taxable value of a piece of residential or commercial property.

If the property value has increased, then a person could still end up paying more in property taxes unless the millage rate is taken all the way back to its full rollback rate.

Heffron said the public hearing dates are still being set, but he added they will be included in an advertisement that the district is required under state law to publish in the district’s legal organ, which is the Daily Post.

As for the district’s FY 2023 budget, it is expected to include salary step increases for all employees unless they have already reached the highest step on the pay scale, a $2,000 cost of living increase for teachers that is funded by the state and a 4% cost of-living increase for non-teaching staff.

District officials previously said they designed the increase for non-teaching employees so that the minimum starting salary for those positions will be at least $13.50 per hour. It is part of a goal to eventually, in phases, get starting salaries for those positions up to $15 per hour.

Some other items in the budget include:

♦ Adding 233 positions to accommodate student growth and to cover the opening of Seckinger High School in the fall ($20.7 million)

♦ Adding 182 teaching positions in an effort to lower class size allotments ($17.3 million)

♦ Increasing the employer contributions for the Teacher Retirement System from 19.81% to 19.98% ($1.7 million)

♦ The Capitol Project Fund budget will increase by $62 million because of projected beginning of work on E-SPLOST VI or General Obligation Bond, also known as G.O. Bonds, projects such as building a new middle school in the Archer cluster, modifications for schools around the county and roofing and HVAC projects. The fund’s total budget will be $208.1 million.

♦ The budget for the Enterprise Fund, which covers the School Nutrition Program, will be $102.8 million. One item that school system officials highlighted in the budget is the fact that a federal waiver that had allowed GCPS to provide free breakfasts and lunches for all students will end at the conclusion of the current school year.

The district will be required by the USDA to go back to having a self-sustaining nutrition program so schools will begin charging for meals again. The cost will be $1.50 for breakfast at all schools and $2.25 for lunch at elementary schools and $2.50 for lunch at middle and high schools.

♦ The addition of 30 more bus drivers so transportation options for choice programs can be expanded in the district ($1.4 million)

♦ The addition of 18 college and career specialists who will provide support in high schools ($1.8 million, COVID relief funds will be used)

♦ Plans to ensure there is a technology tool, such as a Chromebook, for every student in the third through 12th grades to take home if the students need it. (Cost not provided)

♦ A full-year pilot program for “science of reading” instructional materials at between 20 and 25 elementary schools (about $8 million, COVID relief funds will be used)

♦ A full-year pilot for general education pre-K at eight schools. There are expected to be 16 general education pre-K classrooms, which will serve 256 students. District officials said they have seen that about 54% of kindergartners are not prepared when they begin kindergarten. ($3.6 million, COVID relief funds will be used)

♦ Providing program initiatives and personnel centered around whole learner support, such as social workers, behavior specialists, psychologists (about $4 million)

♦ Supporting K-3 teacher professional development to help them have a conceptual understanding of science or reading and structured literacy components (about $3 million)

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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