Proposed $2.1 billion Gwinnett school budget to spending on teachers

Gwinnett County school officials on Saturday unveiled its proposed budget for the next school year, a $2.1 billion plan that would increase pay for all employees, add help for its special education programs and fund rising employee health insurance costs.

The budget would increase spending by about 1.8 percent from the current spending plan.

Much of the increased cost comes from the state’s health care plan, which has risen for Gwinnett by about 20 percent over the last five school years. The proposed budget would require putting an additional $7.1 million into the plan. The expected cost per employee is on average $99 a month to cover their health costs, officials said.

Administrators discussed the budget during a meeting Saturday with school board members. Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Gwinnett’s finances have improved, but there are some areas of future concern, such as aging school buses, technology for students and textbooks.

“A lot of things are going great for us, but as we look at the horizon, there are some things we are going to have to plan for,” Wilbanks told board members.

Wilbanks and other school district leaders continue to raise complaints that state lawmakers give less money to Gwinnett and other school districts than recommended under Georgia’s Quality Basic Education formula. The state has reduced funding to the tune of $899 million since the early 2000s, Gwinnett officials said.

State officials have increased education spending in recent years. Gwinnett projects it will receive a net increase in state funding of nearly $50 million, but a decline of about $8.5 million in federal funding. Property values are projected to rise this year in Gwinnett by nearly 5 percent, officials said. School taxes are tied to property taxes, but the proposed budget does not include a property tax increase.

All full-time workers will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. Board members last month adopted a teacher compensation plan that will also boost salaries.

Much of the board discussion focused on special education. The budget proposal includes an additional psychologist and behavioral support specialists to work with special education students. Officials said the extra help is needed as Gwinnett educates more students with autism and to pay for the rising costs for therapeutic support. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful progress, which experts say could have national implications on special education.

Gwinnett leaders will discuss the budget and state of the district during five public hearings, starting next week. The budget is scheduled to be adopted on May 18.

Here are some key numbers from Gwinnett’s proposed budget:

$2.09 billion - the total proposed budget

$8,892 - total revenue per student

$899 million - the amount of money Gwinnett said it has lost in state austerity cuts

$945 - the average monthly cost per employee for health insurance

88 - the percentage of general fund spending tied to employee pay and benefits

Source: Gwinnett County Public Schools