By Christopher Smith
Republican incumbent Thomas Barton said he is “overjoyed” that voters re-elected him to a second term on the Whitfield County Board of Education from District 1 on Tuesday.
Barton defeated Democrat Nicky Starling with 12,477 votes (69.9 percent) to 5,373 votes (30.1 percent). The results are unofficial until ratified by the Secretary of State and do not include provisional ballots that will be counted by Friday.
Barton, who was first elected in 2008, says his re-election shows the community’s dedication to students.
“I am overjoyed that voters put the kids first,” Barton said. “I will continue to keep our kids first and make the tough decisions for them. I will try and be transparent and honest. The budget is real tight, but I’m looking forward to getting our reserve built back up, retire our debt and do the repairs that need to be done on schools where we can afford them.”
Barton said he was “initially concerned” about re-election after three public hearings in September on the board’s plan to raise the property tax rate. Board members initially planned to raise the rate by 5 mills, but Barton and three other members voted to raise it by 4 mills. It’s a vote Barton stands by.
“I believe I had done in my heart what was right,” he said. “I was hopeful most people believed that. It looks like they did.”
“We can’t compromise on the children,” said Barton. “The system was going to be broke if we didn’t do this. We have $10 million (in reserves) to prepare for an increasing deficit, but the vote was also needed. I’m confident it was our final and last option.”
Starling called the vote a “travesty, not a necessity” and said the increase was one of the main reasons he ran against Barton. Now, he considers Barton a friend.
“Tom Barton is a great man,” Starling said. “He didn’t say anything negative and he’s a good board member. I just hate that he raised taxes, but I guess he had to do what he had to do. I do really respect him and I think I picked up a friend in Tom.”
Starling said he told Barton that Barton would win when he saw him at a general store on Saturday.
“I have no animosity or anger about it,” Starling said. “I feel good about the race. I didn’t really lose, I’m just not on the school board. I will pray for Tom and the rest of them. I consider Danny Hayes (superintendent), Louis Fordham (school board chairman) — all of them — friends.”
He might have friends, but Starling believes “being a Democrat in Republican territory” was why he did not get elected.
“I do appreciate Nicky running,” Barton said. “I just appreciate him caring enough and to put himself out there. You have to admire the decision to run. It’s not an easy job. I appreciate that he ran a positive campaign. There wasn’t any name calling or mud slinging and I appreciate that. I thank him for a good contest.”
Barton is now focused on bringing down the debt through the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) that goes into effect in January and by using tax funds to keep the school system from bankruptcy, “(depending) on if things stay the same and we don’t get unfunded mandates or face any more drastic state cuts.”
Barton said some of his decisions have “received criticism” but he is confident he’s made the process fair for the public. He has been a self-described “house husband” since a car accident in 1983 left him with a broken neck. He has two children who attended Whitfield County schools: Kelley, 21, and T.J., 29.