The Commerce City Council’s “Hometown Connection” meeting Monday night with its state legislative delegation was designed to garner its support for 2014 city initiatives, but superintendent of schools Joy Tolbert had other ideas.
Quoting the state constitution about the state’s “primary obligation” to fund “adequate” education and citing statistics detailing the reduction in state revenue to the Commerce School System, Tolbert suggested during a 25-minute presentation that if Rep. Tommy Benton and Sens. Frank Ginn and John Wilkinson aren’t willing to restore the state’s austerity cuts, they don’t belong in the General Assembly.
“You guys are elected to do what’s right by the people in the community, what’s right by the children,” Tolbert said. “…You’re claiming you balanced the budget in Georgia, but how did you do it? What did you do to education in Georgia to balance the budget? I say to you, ‘mercy.’ I ask for your help. If you’re not willing to go to Atlanta to say, ‘stop the austerity cuts,’ guys, you don’t need to be in the position you’re in. If you’re not willing to stand up for education in the state of Georgia, you don’t need to be there. It’s too important for the kids who are there today. It’s too important for the future of the state.”
The three politicians, two of them former teachers, listened as Tolbert noted what she feels are disparities on how the state’s “equalization” formula works for Commerce, the effects of $8 million in austerity cuts since 2003 and new directives forced on local schools by the state. She repeatedly stressed that the Commerce system is at the state cap of 20 mills in property taxes and insisted that the “children of Commerce” had “earned” the $8 million in funding that the General Assembly cut over the years.
After making her comments, Tolbert left to attend a school children’s Christmas program, so she did not hear the responses from her targets.
Benton, a retired Georgia history teacher, took the lead.
“The three of us are wondering what we did to deserve that right there,” he commented.
Benton pointed out that he gets only one vote on school funding — a yes or no vote on the entire budget. “It comes to us as a package,” he said.
He also reminded the audience — mostly city officials and Georgia Municipal Association officials — that every department in the state suffered cuts. He said the other option was to “raise taxes significantly and maybe ruin what economic recovery we’ve got going.”
“The revenue has got to be there,” Benton continued. “I hate it, but when the budget comes to me and you’ve got one vote, you’ve got to look at the budget. You can’t pick and choose what you want to vote against… We’re in the same boat as the board of education — we can’t spend what we don’t take in.
“I understand where she’s coming from, but I think she and the rest of you should realize that the budget comes to us already done, and all we get to do is vote to approve it or not approve it. Fifty-six percent of every tax dollar is spent on education.”
For the full story, see the Dec. 4 issue of The Commerce News