Pamela Hennen was fed up. The 35-year-old mother of three, mega-school volunteer and St. Augustine Realtor, drove from St. John's County to Tallahassee Wednesday -- with her five-year-old vomiting from car sickness the whole way -- because she needed to tell lawmakers to stop cutting education.
"I've seen the education system change,'' she told the House Finance and Tax Committee Thursday. "I'm not saying 'no more budget cuts' because that is kind of inevitable.''
But Hennen does want lawmakers to find new revenues sources to send more money to schools. On Wednesday, Hennen sat through a budget committee hearing, then she listened to two hours of lobbyists defending their industries' sales tax exemptions, and on Thursday she heard the another round of lobbyists litany again.
"Students at our school have to walk down dark hallways because we don't have the money,'' she said when House Finance and Tax Committe Chairman Ellyn Bogdanoff recognized her to speak to fill up the final four minutes of the committee meeting. The school district has cut the Timberlin Creek Elementary school nurse, extracurricular activities and even high school bands.
Hennen's two-day introduction to Tallahassee was disturbing, she said. She's on her school's student advisory council and PTO and has an MBA, but she's never taken a politics class.
"I couldn't sleep last night,'' she said. She recalled the testimony from the airplane manufacturers' arguments for why the state shouldn't tax airplanes purchased for resale, or fishing boats used for charter trips. "If you're going to pay $1,000 to go on a charter boat what the heck is $60? If those boaters are going to get in trouble out in the water, what are they going to do?...Who goes to save them? The police do, the fire department, the coast guard. And they don't want to pay taxes."
Hennen brought a stack of letters written by parents and children to lawmakers and plans to return to present it to the governor next week. "One child wrote: 'How come I can't get cable
(TV) in my classroom but the prisoners can watch cable in their class?' Shouldn't some sacrifices be over others? When are you going to put children first?"
Hennen observed that the dress code in Tallahassee was "black or gray,'' that most people walking the halls are gray-haired and that there were few people up there that looked or sounded like her.