GCPS Faces Unique Budget Challenges
The state's largest school system must deal with situations that other organizations do not.
It's not just the declining property tax digest in Gwinnett County that causes budget headaches for the Gwinnett public school system (GCPS). The system has unique funding challenges, including its own positive reputation.
- PROPERTY TAXES: The system derives 99 percent of its funding from property taxes. Yet, the Gwinnett County government, which collects those taxes, derives less than 40 percent of its revenue from property taxes, with other revenue coming from fees. "We have no other option (than property taxes)," Rick Cost, the GCPS chief financial officer, said this week.
- WEALTH PER STUDENT: GCPS has the same tax millage rate as nearby Fulton County, yet has 70,000 more students than Fulton. This is somewhat because of the county's size, and also because GCPS has a strong reputation. So GCPS ranks 87th of 180 districts statewide in wealth per student.
- STATE FUNDING: The wealth per student situation means GCPS gets $6.8 million more in equalization grant funding from the state in 2013 than in 2012. Still, this is $11 million below the amount actually earned under the Quality Basic Education formula.
- SCHOOL LUNCH PRICES: The schools plan an increase of $2.4 million in the Enterprise (School Nutrition) Fund, to $88.3 million. This is somewhat due to anticipated higher food costs from new federal mandates, and increased employee benefit costs. However, there will be no meal price increases in FY 2013. About 54 percent of all students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
- RIDING BUSES TO SCHOOL: The GCPS has a projected transportation budget of $78.9 million, with just $5.3 million funded by the state. About 75 percent of students ride buses to schools, because Gwinnett County's size generally means fewer students can walk or ride bicycles.
For 2013, GCPS officials had to overcome an $89 million revenue shortfall to balance the budget, and for 2012, it was over $100 million. The schools use a "rolling budget" process to allow for seamless, year-to-year planning. However, Cost, the CFO, said he is not comfortable with estimating a revenue-shortfall figure for FY 2014.
However, a continued decline in property tax revenue from the county is still expected, and Cost said that it still might be 2-3 years before the situation bottoms out. In the past four years, GCPS has lost almost $133 million in property-tax revenue.
For 2013, the schools' millage rate will remain unchanged at 19.75, which is just below the state maximum.
The GCPS plans public hearings on the budget May 10 and May 17, with the board scheduled to vote on the budget at the May 17 meeting.