Gwinnett school board asks voters to pass bond referendum

An additional floor at Discovery High School is one of the projects a general obligation bond for Gwinnett County Public Schools could finance. CONTRIBUTED
An additional floor at Discovery High School is one of the projects a general obligation bond for Gwinnett County Public Schools could finance. CONTRIBUTED

A referendum on a general obligation school bond is on the Nov. 6 ballot for Gwinnett County voters.

The school board voted this summer to place it the ballot, to fund school improvements. That spot on the ballot was originally slated for a vote on whether the county should join MARTA, but county commissioners decided to wait on the MARTA vote until March.

If the school bond passes, a considerable portion of its $350 million revenue will go toward a new high school planned for the Mill Creek cluster.

“The timing is very beneficial,” Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said about the bond being on the November ballot. “It allows us to begin things six months earlier and have some things done before the next school year (2019-20).”

Proponents of the referendum tout it as a way to pay for building an additional floor at Discovery High School, renovations to the fine arts area at Central Gwinnett High School, upgrades to athletic facilities, labs and instructional spaces throughout the district as well as the new school without raising taxes.

“There is no question that Gwinnett County’s economic success and quality of life are directly tied to our award-winning public schools. This investment, which will not raise taxes, will allow for improvements and renovations throughout our public school system and ensure a world-class learning environment for students and teachers,” said Norwood Davis, chief financial officer of 12Stone Church and co-chair of the Gwinnett Kids Count campaign, an advocacy group for the bond issue.

According to the organization, bond proceeds will be used systemwide to fund general building renovations and improvements, enhancements to school safety and extensive technology upgrades, as well as the district’s needs for additional classrooms and capital improvements across its 140 schools and support facilities.

For investors, general obligation bonds are considered one of the safest investments, according to the Motley Fool, a financial services company. Although there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment, it’s virtually unheard of for a municipal bond to go into default. That’s because they are backed by an entity that has the ability to raise taxes to repay bondholders, if needed.

Gwinnett County schools lowered the tax cost of its debt service from 2.05 mills in FY 2018 to 1.95 mills in FY 2019.

Gwinnett is the only school district in Georgia and in the Southeastern region of the nation that has attained a “Aaa” bond rating from Moody’s and S&P, according to the school district. Only 24 school districts nationwide have earned this fiscal stamp of approval from both bond rating agencies.

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