Protecting Instructional Time in a Tough Budget Year

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by Alvin Wilbanks

January 2011 ushered in a number of changes to the state”s political landscape. Among them were a new governor, a new state school superintendent, and many new members of the Georgia General Assembly, several of whom represent Gwinnett County under the Gold Dome.

Throughout the 2011 legislative session we have worked with the state”s new and veteran leaders as they came together to make decisions on behalf of Georgia”s citizens – decisions that in many cases have an impact on the public schools. We shared with members of the Gwinnett Delegation the Gwinnett County Board of Education”s “Legislative Program,”# providing local lawmakers with accurate, timely information about our school district and public education that we hoped they would keep in mind throughout the session.

Two critically important things we urged our legislators to do are preserve local control of the public schools and protect the revenue that funds those schools from the drastic cuts that we have experienced for the last nine years. Our district has lost more than $404 million through state funding cuts during that time.

We know that the state”s FY2012 budget situation is grim, and state leaders faced some tough choices – as did local boards of education throughout Georgia. In Gwinnett County Public Schools, we began developing our FY2012 budget with an estimated $77 million shortfall in revenue. That shortfall is the result of federal stimulus dollars going away, continued austerity cuts from the state, and a further decline in local tax revenue. Add to it continued growth in our student population and the opening of another new school and the shortfall grows to $85 million.

We have faced tough budgets before. Then, as now, our conservative fiscal practices helped the school district meet the balanced-budget mandate. FY2012 has been our biggest budgetary challenge to date, however.

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