Gwinnett school district asking community for budget priorities

The district is preparing for expiration of pandemic funds
The J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

The J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Georgia, on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gwinnett County Public Schools parents, staff, students and other county residents can share their priorities for the district’s next budget in an online survey.

The survey allows participants to rank various programs and initiatives — such as early learning, safety features and teacher pay — to inform decision making in the upcoming budget development process. The survey is available until Dec. 11.

The district typically releases a budget draft in the spring, conducts public feedback sessions with the school board and community over several months and adopts a budget before the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.

Development of the upcoming budget comes with a new challenge — the expiration of federal pandemic funding in September 2024.

That funding supported programs that were “centered around providing support to respond to the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of all students, and particularly those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the survey states.

With those funds expiring, district staff may have to cut or reduce programs. Feedback from the survey may help those staff members “understand the community’s priorities for the general budget as we move out of the phase of COVID-19 pandemic funding.”

The current budget’s general fund, which covers most expenses and daily operations, is about $2.3 billion. In recent years, the district hasn’t changed the millage rate, but higher property assessments have driven revenue increases.

Some school board members have been vocal about areas they’d like to see addressed more significantly in the budget.

Board Chair Tarece Johnson-Morgan never voted to approve the current budget and has said her requests to see potential adjustments were ignored. She asked to reexamine allocations to fund programs and schools that have high needs, such as a large number of students learning English and higher turnover among teachers. Board member Adrienne Simmons has echoed Johnson-Morgan, saying she’s concerned with the district maintaining status quo rather than making changes she believes would be more equitable.

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