Gwinnett school board adopts $2.35 billion tentative budget

The Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a tentative budget for public hearings. AJC file photo
The Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a tentative budget for public hearings. AJC file photo

The Gwinnett County Board of Education unanimously approved a tentative $2.35 billion expense budget, sending the proposal to the public for hearings in May and June.

The budget is $8.4 million, or 0.4%, more than the current fiscal year. The school district plans to keep the tax rate at 21.60 mills total.

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Increased expenses include $1,000 raises at every step and level of the teacher salary schedule. That’s an average raise of about 3% for teachers, who move up the steps based on experience and evaluations and gain levels based on degrees earned, said Joe Heffron, chief financial officer at a recent school board meeting. A starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $47,646 next year under the proposed schedule.

Employees on other salary schedules would get 2% raises.

The school district plans to take nearly $13 million from reserves to balance the budget. Heffron estimated Gwinnett’s reserve fund next year will total 10 times that much.

Some board members expressed concern about dipping into reserves, which Gwinnett also did last year for the first time since the 2008 recession.

If the board wants to balance the budget without reserves, members need to cut $12.9 million from expenses, Heffron said. The new salary and benefit increases are estimated to cost almost $24 million.

“We’re trying to take care of our people,” said board member Steven Knudsen.

Gwinnett is predicting an enrollment increase of about 2,500 students next school year, bringing the total enrollment close to 180,000.

Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for May 20 and June 17, with a final vote the second date. The tax rate will be adopted over the summer.

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