By now, you’ve all heard the news. In a 12–6 vote on Monday, July 19, our funding body rejected the document that the Cumberland County Commission’s Budget Committee had worked with painstaking care for over 40 hours during a plethora of meetings to craft. In the center of the controversy is a seven-cent property tax adjustment local match for education required by state law. Our ability to pay doesn’t match the support we give.
Commission Chair and Ninth District Representative Carmin Lynch did his best to communicate the gravity of another successful failure to fund education. On this night, two-thirds of the panel ignored his advice and that of County Attorney Randall Boston.
On the evening of July 20, I sent the following message to Chairman Lynch sharing my thoughts. In the interest of space, context and clarity for readers, what follows here is an edited version of my message:
“I had a telephone call today (Tuesday, July 20, 2010 at 4:40 p.m. CDT) with my friend and colleague, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Dr. Tim Webb. With respect to what transpired last evening at the Cumberland County Commission where you and our county attorney repeatedly tried to explain the inevitable result of failure to fund, Dr. Webb made it crystal clear to me this afternoon that there is 'not the slightest question' he will withhold all of the state's portion of education funding from our county if the local funding obligation isn't met. He also stated that he would be calling Wesley Robertson in the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office immediately after our call ended to alert him.
“I'm certain you realize that the CCBOE will be left with no other choice than to employ every legal avenue at our disposal to ensure that basic funding is in place for our children during the 2010-2011 school year. We know better than to ask our funding body for one dollar more than the minimum required for a basic education program for our children. In the same breath, rest assured we will not settle for anything less than the law requires. It would be a travesty to have precious taxpayer dollars wasted on litigation that has already been decided in favor of public school systems in a Tennessee court of law within the last 12 months (a case that arose out of and was won by the Memphis City School System when the Memphis City Council refused to pay their expected, local contribution last year).
“Educating our children is at the foundation of our democracy and is the backbone of our economy. While I understand (and heard you say loudly and clearly last evening) that you are 'proud' that we have always stepped up to the plate in Cumberland County to ensure that education receives the minimum local funding, I'm sure you will understand that I can personally take no pride whatsoever in Cumberland County doing the least we can possibly do to get by. My parents never rewarded me or patted me on the back for complying with their basic, household rules! As a matter of fact, they would bust my backside if I didn't! It was only when I exceeded their expectations and gave the very best I had to give that I earned their pride and praise.
“Rest assured, the fact that I’m not 'proud' of education funding in our county barely scraping by isn't personal. It's just a basic, fundamental difference in philosophy between the two of us that I suspect will always be present.
“Thank you for your effort on our behalf. Please let me know if I can be a help to you during this difficult time.”
Time. There is still time. All it would take is for four additional commissioners to step up to the plate before most folks in our county step into a voting booth.