With a total of $3.04 billion, the fiscal year 2024 budget for Gwinnett County Public Schools is set to be the largest ever recorded in the district’s history.
Nevertheless, concerns have arisen from at least one school board member, suggesting that there are specific needs the budget fails to adequately address.
The county’s school board approved the budget with a vote of 4-1 on Thursday evening, with the board’s Chairwoman, Tarece Johnson, casting the sole dissenting “No” vote.
During a budget hearing that preceded the vote, Johnson voiced her opinion that the budget should have taken more substantial steps to tackle early learning and English language learning requirements. Throughout the budget formulation process, Johnson had consistently advocated for adjustments to address these concerns.
“I urge us to scrutinize the budget in a manner that helps us determine how we can redistribute funds to increase investments in early literacy, pre-K programs, and support for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL),” Johnson conveyed to district officials during the budget hearing.
“I’ve mentioned a few other areas, and some teachers have as well, yet I continue to emphasize the need for change and acknowledge that there’s been no modification to the budget.”
Included within the district’s budget is an allocation of $2.3 billion for GCPS’ general fund.
Several components of the budget encompass: a $1,000 salary increase for teachers, in addition to state-funded raises; a minimum 4% cost-of-living adjustment for non-teaching staff; the establishment of 317 new positions within instructional domains to accommodate an anticipated growth of 2,064 students; augmented staffing for nurses and custodians; as well as enhanced security measures in schools.
However, certain board members have conveyed that they are receiving feedback from both the community and teachers that specific needs remain unaddressed.
Board member Karen Watkins and Johnson highlighted, for instance, that while district officials pledged to address class sizes during the previous school year, the actual change resulted in a reduction of merely one student per classroom.
“Perhaps this is why our teachers aren’t observing the intended impacts,” Watkins suggested.
Johnson expressed reservations regarding whether district officials were genuinely attentive to concerns raised by teachers and community members regarding the proposed budget.
“It feels as though these priorities are not being given due attention, as we’re failing to display flexibility in exploring potential areas for investment,” Johnson remarked.
District staff assured board members that these matters could be addressed through subsequent budget amendments during the fiscal year.
“There’s always room for budget amendments; in fact, we technically adjust the budget every month during our budget revisions,” stated Chief Financial Officer Masana Mailliard. “Formal adoption is a plan.”
However, Johnson appeared skeptical that these concerns would indeed be rectified through budget amendments.
“Teachers remain unconvinced, as they’ve provided feedback consistently throughout the year, yet changes have not been made,” she pointed out.
“In March, when the need for ESOL support was highlighted, the budget remained unchanged.”
The school board also provisionally adopted the district’s millage rate, which dictates the portion of an individual’s property taxes allocated to schools.
It’s important to distinguish this from the millage rate established by county commissioners to fund county government operations, though both rates appear on the same tax bill.
The school district currently intends to maintain its total millage rate at 20.65 mills. This comprises 19.2 mills for maintenance and operations, and 1.45 mills for debt service.
The final adoption of the millage rate is scheduled for next month, after the county Tax Commissioner’s Office releases the ultimate tax digest figures.
One crucial point for residents to note concerning the millage rate is that maintaining it at the same level does not necessarily translate to property owners avoiding an increase in their property tax bills.
If property values have risen over the year due to the Gwinnett County Tax Assessors Office’s annual assessments, property owners may find themselves owing more in taxes.