With surprise tax windfall, Gwinnett gives teachers bigger raises

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent and CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks speaks with Burnette Elementary School parents and staff during a meeting in the school’s library in Suwanee, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent and CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks speaks with Burnette Elementary School parents and staff during a meeting in the school’s library in Suwanee, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Gwinnett County Public Schools will receive $28 million more from local property taxes than anticipated last month when the budget was approved, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said recently.

That news prompted the school board to decide against pulling from reserves and to increase teacher raises.

The board voted unanimously to double the cost-of-living increase for all employees on the teacher salary scale, from $1,000 to $2,000. The starting salary for a new Gwinnett teacher with a bachelor’s degree is now $48,646, according to a school district news release.

“This will enable the district to remain competitive with other salary schedules from other districts,” Wilbanks told the school board at a recent meeting. “It will also ensure the metro area and Gwinnett continues to support the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. We just need to make sure Gwinnett gets its share of those teachers.”

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The change will take effect next month in teachers’ first checks for the contract year.

All employees not paid on the teacher salary scale will receive a 2% cost-of-living increase, according to the budget. Those raises remain unchanged.

“Mr. Wilbanks, thank you for your leadership in finding a way to continue to honor our teachers and appreciate their contributions during one of the very hardest years our school system has ever had,” said Mary Kay Murphy, board member, before the vote.

The school board also approved budget amendments that eliminated the need to pull almost $13 million from reserves. The district instead will add $500,000 to the reserve fund, according to the amended budget.

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Board Chair Everton Blair said he was happy to support the budget amendments.

“I think it’s a great honor for our teachers to be recognized for all the hard work that they did out of the pandemic,” Blair said.

The school system’s budget for the fiscal year that began this month assumed a 2% growth in the property tax base, but the Gwinnett County tax assessor’s office later projected the tax base would grow closer to 5%, Wilbanks said.

At the same meeting, the school board approved a millage rate of 21.35, a decrease of 0.25 mills from the previous tax rate.