On the back of the second ballot card for the Nov. 6 election is a referendum question asking voters to approve continuing a one-half mill ad valorem tax for school operating expenses.
If approved, the tax period would run from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2017.
According to the ballot language, money generated from the tax would pay for “necessary operating expenses, including funds to recruit and retain quality teachers; preserve reading programs and music and art classes; and provide up-to-date textbooks and technology, with oversight of these expenditures by an independent citizens’ financial oversight committee.”
Pinellas County voters first approved an additional one-half mill ad valorem (property) tax for school district operating expenses Nov. 2, 2004, according to the district’s website, referendum.pcsb.org. The tax period ran from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2009.
The money funded three specific areas: recruiting and retaining quality teachers; preserving reading programs and art and music classes; and providing up-to-date textbooks and technology.
An Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee was created that reviews and monitors expenditures to make sure the money is spent as directed by the voters. Voters approved continuation of the one-half mill tax Jan. 29, 2008, for a period from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2013.
One-half mill equals $50 per year per $100,000 in taxable value. In 2012, the average single-family home in Pinellas County was valued at $137,911. With a $25,000 homestead exemption, the average homeowner paid $56.46 per year, or less than $5 a month or about 15 cents per day. For homes valued at $250,000, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, homeowners would pay $112.50 a year, which amounts to $9.38 a month or 31 cents per day.
According to the website, “Referendum funds support all Pinellas County Schools’ students through new or expanded classroom libraries, additional supplies, increased training opportunities for teachers and contemporary technology like iPads, laptops, Smart Boards, Kindles and digital cameras.
“Every reading classroom and every content classroom (i.e. math, science, social studies) in Pinellas County is now equipped with a classroom library filled with diverse and up-to-date materials. Studies show that children need access to a diverse selection of reading materials to develop into proficient readers and referendum funds are ensuring that students have plenty of books and periodicals in classrooms and media centers at every school.”
Other examples of how the money has been spent over the years, includes funding new sound systems for auditoriums and purchase of digital cameras and visual art computer labs, which help students prepare for careers in graphic design, videography, animation and website design.
The money also funds professional development workshops and classes for teachers.
“Pinellas County Schools needed approximately 500 reading endorsed or certified teachers to meet the requirements of the ‘highly qualified’ designation of the federal No Child Left Behind. Referendum funding has helped support 710 teachers who are now reading endorsed, far surpassing the minimum requirements for that designation. More teachers are currently working toward reading endorsement,” the website said.
Tax money also has paid for updated computers, software and multimedia devices, “a strategy that is positioning Pinellas County Schools on the cutting edge of 21st century technology in educational settings,” officials say.
Use of technology has proven to be a benefit for teachers and students.
“Teachers using laptops, iPads and Smart Boards have reported elevated student engagement; increased participation in after-school remedial classes needed for graduation; fewer student absences; better collaboration between students; and opportunities to bring greater relevance to lessons through online research and real-time feedback for students,” according to information on the school district’s website.
Results from a poll of high school teachers using laptops showed that 92 percent reported improvement in students’ ability to complete school assignments. A poll of students showed that 91 percent believe the devices make learning easier, more interesting and allow them to learn at their own pace.
“Referendum funds are also supporting our most vulnerable children through dedicated intervention programs for remedial readers; greater access to FCAT preparation software; waived instrument rental fees for students who can’t afford them; paid admission for field trips to museums and art galleries that some children would not otherwise be able to visit; and software and other materials to support struggling students,” school officials say.
Teachers also get a boost in pay, thanks to the one-half mill in additional taxes. Through the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the tax has supplemented teachers’ salaries by an average of $3,180 per year.
Two non-partisan run-off elections will decide school board members for the at-large District 1 seat and the single-member District 7 position.
Incumbent Janet R. Clark is facing Elliott Stern for District 1. Rene Flowers is challenging Glenton “Glen” Gilzean, who was appointed by the governor to represent District 7 after the death of Lew Williams, Dec. 3, 2011.