- 1600 petition signatures
- 130 phone calls to County Commissioners from their constituents
- 30 handwritten letters
- 100 people in attendance over the span of 3 meetings and speakers at each
- Winning a victory for our kids
Stand in the News
Did you catch the front page of the Commercial Appeal or the news on ABC 24? Yesterday, Stand made quite the impression at the County Commission meeting for the final vote on the property tax rate. We have been advocating for several weeks in support of Mayor Luttrell’s 6 cent property tax raise to generate 20 million dollars to fund the schools and it all culminated in a winning vote yesterday afternoon.
A Quick Recap
When Mayor Luttrell presented the county budget to the County Commission, he proposed a 6 cent property tax increase to fund both education and county services because of a loss in property tax revinue (from declining property values) that we as a county experienced this year. This tax rate would generate 20 million additional dollars to help with the 35 million dollar deficit that the school system currently has. Originally starting at a 154 million dollar deficit (because of lower state funding levels, the Achievement School District taking district schools, charter schools, and lower enrollment rates), the school board tirelessly worked on their budget (which is 75 million dollars less than the two districts’ budgets last year) to bring the deficit down and presented it for approval from the County Commission. The Commission approved the budget but then had to set the county tax rate in order to fund it. This tax rate would fund the education budget as well and the county budget, which includes the sheriff’s department, The Med, libraries, parks, and homeless services, among many other things. We advocated on behalf of the 6 cents so that the school system would not have to sustain any additional cuts into essential services, which Supt. Hopson stated would happen if they had to cut further. The tax rate requires three readings to get adopted and in the third and final reading, it failed. That forced an additional reading that occured July 21st.
After weeks of advocating, we watched the third reading of the tax rate fail despite our efforts. We presented to the Commission 1,600 signatures from constituents across the county, turned out and spoke at every meeting, and still it did not pass. In the face of that defeat, we could have given up- but we didn’t. Knowing what this would mean for our schools, we dusted ourselves off, rallied together, and fought to ensure that the school budget would not have to sustain any additional cuts. We knew that the final July 21st reading would be a make-or-break moment for our school system and we wanted to do everything possible to win for our kids. We went deep into neighborhoods (specifically in the swing vote districts of Commissioner Ford and Commissioner Harvey) asking door to door for people to call the County Commission in support of the tax, called our members, and raised awareness in order to inspire people to act, and people did! The result :130 phone calls, 30 hand-written letters, and 1,600 petition signatures. Over 100 members showed up over the span of the 4 meetings with several acting as speakers.
On July 21st, we were able to ensure that teachers and students get the resources they need this school year. In a 7-5 vote, the tax rate passed! Commissioner Ford, who voted no for the tax on the last reading, changed his vote and cited that he was “supportive of schools” and always has been. He later cited our efforts as important in this process stating, “They did a wonderful job in continuing to participate in the Democracy of the county.” We were pleased that the commissioner listened to the folks that called and wrote him and served as a steward for his community’s wishes.
Because of this our school system will not have to make budget cuts that directly impact our classrooms- like raising class sizes, laying off teaching and support staff, or cutting critical learning opportunities.
We want to say thank you to everyone who took a moment to call the County Commission, sign a petition, and send an email or a letter- your voice was critical in helping our elected officials understand that this was an investment our community wanted to make. We want to extend our gratitute to Mayor Luttrell for proposing the tax increase and Commissioners Brooks, Burgess, Ritz, Chism, Bailey, Ford and especially Mulroy for their support and for their willingness to listen to their constituents.Together we were able to ensure that our schools will have sufficient resources for our children.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
*Yalonda M. James, Commercial Appeal