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UCPS parents hope to influence state legislators to extend 1-cent sales tax

NC Representative (District 68) Craig Horn addresses a group of parents who traveled to Raleigh to support extending the one-penny sales tax.

About 30 Union County parents converged on Raleigh Tuesday (May 24, 2011) in an effort to influence state legislators to support extending the one-penny sales tax (due to end on July 1) in hopes of reducing the impact of pending state budget cuts on the Union County Public Schools.

Remona Griffin, who has two children in UCPS, said she drove to Raleigh to ask for bipartisan thinking on extending the tax and in making budget cuts to the public schools.

"It's about knowing that one penny can make an $18 million dollar difference in the education of my children," she said. "If my children are going to be competitive with everyone else across the country when they graduate from the Union County Public Schools, the school system is going to have to be funded."

Griffin echoed the views of the other parents who drove to Raleigh when she told one legislator that the general public would not notice an extra percent sales tax in their pocket even if the tax were not extended. "It's such a small difference to a family of four, it's kind of insane not to renew it. If they would extend the tax and use the money directly for the schools, I think there would be only a small number of people who would oppose extending that state tax."

North Carolina Representative (District 69) Frank McGuirt was the only local legislator who voiced support for extending the sales tax. "We should keep the one-cent sales tax. I am told that it will virtually take care of the public education needs in North Carolina. You're talking about less than 25 cents per day or $89 a year for a family of four. On the flip side, if that one-cent is cut, it's not going to find its way back into the consumer's pocket."

Parents visited the offices of all four of the county's legislators. North Carolina Senator (District 35) Tommy Tucker attempted to explain to parents why there is little support for extending the tax.

"When it expires, legislators would have to vote for a tax increase to extend it," Tucker said. "Every one of us ran on the fact that we were not going to raise taxes. North Carolina is the 20th highest taxed state in the US. We're the highest taxed state in the Southeast. We're losing businesses and jobs because of our income tax, so we're not going to raise taxes."

Representative (District 67) Justin Burr had similar comments. "We'll have to agree to disagree on the penny sales tax," he said to the parents. "I pledged that I would not raise taxes or extend the temporary tax. I have more people in my district asking me to do away with the temporary sales tax than are asking me to keep it. I don't believe it is to the detriment of our children."

Antioch Elementary School parent and PTO president Andrea Smith said she was disappointed that legislators were so adamant about not extending the tax. "We came to fight for extending the one-cent sales tax," she said. "I didn't realize it was already dead in the water, that it had already been squashed and was old news."

Representative (District 68) Craig Horn tried to encourage parents that even though the school system will suffer budget cuts, it would remain a good system. "Do I believe this will be Armageddon for education as we know it in Union County? I do not believe that. Do I believe we will take a hit and it will hurt? Yes, I do believe that. But even if that tax stays, you're still going to get a hit. There is just not enough money."

Tucker also attempted to encourage parents by saying that UCPS would remain a great school system even with the reduced funding. "If we go down the drain because of an 8 percent cut in a great school system like Union County, it wasn't that great to begin with," he said of the Senate's proposed 8 percent cut to education in North Carolina. "I know in my heart that that's not going to happen because you're not going to let it happen."

Tucker said after the meeting that he enjoyed talking with the Union County parents. "They were very pleasant and civil, but pointed in their questions," he said. "I did the very best to respond and as we leave, I feel we're all still committed to making sure that Union County Public Schools will continue to be the finest in the state."

Making the trip to Raleigh, Tucker said, had an impact on legislators. "It absolutely does impact your thought process," he said. "To see people from the Raleigh area, that's fine. But to see people from Union County come up and let us know what's on their mind, that's absolutely what makes a difference. I was already committed to K-12 before the meeting and I'm even more committed afterward, as we go through the budget negotiations."

McGuirt thanked the parents for making the three-hour drive from Monroe. "This is the best kind of lobbying that can take place," he said. "It's one thing to talk to a reporter or to exchange emails or a letter with a constituent, but when a constituent comes and looks you in the eye, you've got to know what you're talking about. And you have to be honest. This will be as effective as anything."

Even though the group of parents didn't seem to change how the legislators will vote, the trip wasn't a total loss. Smith said the information she gathered about the political process and the bills being discussed will be shared with her parents at future meetings.

"It was an interesting experience for me because I’ve never been one to dabble in politics," she said. "It was interesting to see the atmosphere there. It was a unique experience and I was very impressed with how many parents were able to come from Union County. It bodes well for what Superintendent (Ed) Davis has created for so many to be actively involved."

The video below shows some of the photos from the trip as well as you get to hear from the 4 legislators and their perspective on the issue.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Video by: Don Mace, UCPS Web Communications Coordinator
Posted: May 25, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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