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Money talks in school

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When I moved here, I was sold the boxed package that is delivered to new residents. Here is what I was told:

Pinellas County schools stink.

The schools here are crime ridden.

The kids are out of control.

There’s a bunch of old people who live here who don’t want to pay to improve the schools.

The taxpayers’ kids are all grown.

The seniors don’t care about children.

Nobody will pay for our children.

That sure is a lot of negativity for a “Sun” coast.

Since living here and getting involved with children through sports programs and after-school care, I have met a ton of great kids, products of the Pinellas County School System. They have morals, they have good sense, they are good natured, happy, adjusted, and they’re smart, too.

I think Pinellas County is doing a better job than it gets credit for.

That said, we could do better. You can’t do much, however, without that Almighty Dollar. The teachers, all of whom dig into their own pockets to make up for shortfalls in the classrooms, need more money – to make up for all they spend on school supplies, if nothing else. They’re not looking to get rich. They’re looking to be able to buy groceries, buy a bike for their own kids, have a nice dinner every night, maybe even buy a new car. Have a life, in other words.

Recognizing this, the school board is asking us, as voters, to approve a referendum Nov. 2 to increase our own taxes to help teachers have a decent standard of living and to pay for a couple of other things the schools should have. A citizens committee is being set up to decide and oversee the expenditures – the increase would go into affect July 5, 2005.

For someone with a $100,000 home, the half mill being requested would come to $37.50 a year, or $3 a month. For those wealthier beings with a $200,000 home, the cost is $87.50 a year, or $7 a month.

Many of us make less than what our teachers start at, and we understandably balk at having to give more money to someone who already has more than us.

The people who don’t have kids might think, “Why should I pay more for schools when I don’t benefit?”

Some of us are more selfish than others. I would say to them, first of all, that someone paid for us to go to school – remember? And secondly, we all benefit from giving the next generation a good education. And third, I would remind them that it is society’s responsibility to sow seeds, even if we’re a big old oak ready to die.

The money could be cut from administrative positions, some say. That was already done last year and the year before. Now, a principal spends hours of overtime (she doesn’t get paid overtime) trying to keep up with paperwork instead of leaving that to a secretary and actually spending time being a principal.

Cuts are good to a point. But then they hurt.

Others argue that this request for a raise in the property tax is a rush-job. That is true and would have been better if planned for next year. But for reasons I don’t understand, the vote is before us now, and I’m afraid if we kill it now it will be harder to get next year.

Let’s deal with what we have before us and be thankful it got this far.

The biggest problem with this referendum is that, in four years, voters have to approve the raises and other enhancements all over again. If they don’t, they go away. How do you give someone a raise, then take it away? That’s just crazy, and I would hope that in the next four years other funding would be found to ensure the continuity of competitive salaries – though I do have every confidence in the world that our county and our state is ready to put the emphasis on education and will do so again and again if necessary.

People know teachers have a burn-out job. Anyone who is around kids at all can only imagine what an emotionally exhausting job teaching must be. Educators have to worry about getting sued at every turn or, worse yet, accused of improper behavior. Summer off? Most teachers I know pick up a summer job – usually working with more children – just to help make ends meet.

They have the same demands on their lives that we do – and yet, they literally have the future of our civilization in their hands. That is quite a responsibility, and the teachers I know take it very seriously.

All we have to do is pay them more to maintain the quality we have and attract more of the best when we hire. Tell me, why wouldn’t we want the best for our children? That might be a cliché, but I do believe most people know it’s true.

Mary Burrell is managing editor and editor of the Beach Beacon and Seminole Beacon.
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