Buried under the sea of state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 election ballot is an important referendum issue that many voters may gloss over.
They shouldn’t. Voter approval of the continuation of the half-mill property tax for school operating expenses is critical for the school district to cope with the challenges of providing a good education for students.
Through the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the tax has supplemented teachers’ salaries by an average of $3,180 per year and supplied schools with more than $38 million in reading materials, wireless mobile computer labs, Smart Boards, up-to-date software, art supplies, band uniforms, musical instruments and many other items that enhance teaching and learning, school officials said.
County voters first approved an additional one-half mill ad valorem (property) tax for school district operating expenses Nov. 2, 2004. The tax period ran from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2009.
Ninety-two percent of high school teachers using laptops said they had witnessed improvement in the quality and completion rate of student assignments, the results of a district poll showed. Ninety-one percent of students said the devices made learning easier and were making them more successful in their academic pursuits.
As a result of the tax, every reading classroom and every content classroom (in Pinellas County) is now equipped with a classroom library filled with diverse and up-to-date materials.
As far as accountability, schools have addressed such concerns about the tax, which generated about $28.3 million for this school year. An Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee was created to monitor expenditures to make sure the money is spent as directed by the voters.
The cost to the average single-family member is minimal. 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, school officials said.
“Referendum funds also are 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,” the website said.
Support is widespread throughout the county for the tax, such as the County Council of PTAs, multiple chambers of commerce and the Pinellas Realtor Organization.
Little, if any, criticism has been levied against the continuation of the tax. That’s not surprising, especially in the wake of such compelling arguments put forth by the school district in support on the measure.
Tampa Bay Newspapers recommends that voters vote yes on the school tax issue.