Pinellas School Board approves ballot language for November referendum

Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary School students take part in a virtual school day. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced April 18 that the state's schools will remained closed for the rest of the year.

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board unanimously approved a resolution adopting the ballot language for a one-half mil ad valorem tax referendum to be placed on the November ballot during an April 28 virtual meeting.

Since 2004, county voters have said yes to the extra tax levy that supports local education. The money helps with recruitment and retention of teachers, said Kevin Hendrick, associate superintendent of Teaching & Learning Services. Eighty percent goes to supplement teachers’ salaries. In 2019-2020 an additional $4,724 was added to base salaries using referendum money.

The remaining 20% is used to provide classroom resources, including visual arts, performing arts, reading and technology.

School Superintendent Michael Grego pointed out that the extra money from the half-mil tax helped greatly with the transition to digital learning because the district had technology resources available to share with the students.

The ballot question reads, “Shall the Pinellas County School District ad valorem millage of one-half mil per year be continued beginning July 1, 2021, and ending June 30, 2025, for necessary operating expenses including funds to recruit and retain quality teachers; preserve reading programs and music and art classes; and provide current textbooks and technology, sharing funds with charter schools proportionate to student enrollment as required by law, with expenditure oversight by an independent citizens financial oversight committee?”

Hendrick said part of the reasons local voters continue to support the referendum is the oversight committee which meets quarterly to review how the money is spent and prepares an annual report.

If the ballot language is approved by Pinellas County commissioners, it will be forwarded to the Supervisor of Elections. School Board attorney David Koperski said he hoped the commission would consider the referendum question during a May meeting. It must be approved in August.

School start times

The board also approved school start times for 2020-2021 and authorized the school superintendent to make additional changes as required by state statute or other factors affecting the length of the instructional day.

Most start times remain the same with the exception of Pinellas Gulf Coast Academy, which is moving to a Coachman location. The school times have been adjusted from 7:15 a.m.-1:15 p.m. to 7:10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

In addition, times for seven transformation schools have been adjusted from 7:15 a.m.-3:30 p.m. to 7:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m.

School Board member Nicole Carr, who voted no on the item that was part of the consent agenda, asked about plans to move start time later to align them with research on students and sleep. She said she was disappointed that no progress had been made for changes in the coming year.

She said at a previous work session some options had been discussed.

“It’s better for students to start later,” she said.

Grego said a committee was continuing to work on solutions.

Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for Division of Facilities and Operations, said the district was continuing to work with a consultant from MIT who had worked with schools in Boston. He said there was some “promising software” that could identify some routing options.

He said the committee was readying a document for the public’s review. He said the committee was on target to have solutions to meet the goal of making changes for the 2021-2022 school year.

In other business

The board approved a proclamation declaring the week of May 4-8 as Teacher Appreciation Week and May 5 as Teacher Appreciation Day in Pinellas.

Members approved a request for a 15-year, high performing charter modification for Discovery Academy of Science Charter School in Dunedin. The school is currently a kindergarten-eight grade school, but plans to expand to offer grades nine-12 beginning in 2022. Plans call for adding one grade and one classroom each year.

Members approved staff’s recommendation to deny a charter application from King Charter School because it failed to meet criteria set forth by the Florida Department of Education.

In addition, Grego announced that a survey sent out about graduation resulted in about 7,500 responses. Most prefer to delay graduation until it can be done in-person.

In a message posted at https://www.pcsb.org/coronavirus, Grego said in-person graduation ceremonies would take place later in the summer, if health and safety regulations allow. The district is also planning for a virtual ceremony if it is not possible to hold an in-person one.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.