Pinellas County School Board, advocates push for third renewal of referendum tax
Blurring the lines between supporting the cause and urging voters to vote their way, Pinellas County school board members echoed activists' approval of renewing a referendum tax that supplements teacher salaries and pays for the arts and education in schools.
Board members at last week's school board meeting raved about the good tidings the tax has brought to the district since it was first put up to a vote in 2004. Up for its third renewal on the November ballot, board officials estimate that the one-half mill increase in ad valorem tax could bring in about $34 million annually after going into effect in 2017.
According to the ballot question, the money would be directed as it has in the past to recruiting and retaining teachers, preservingn reading, art and music classes and updating technology and textboooks.
Community members and a Largo High student lined up to speak and publicly endorse the referendum. Among them: Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Mike Gandolfo, Pinellas Realtor Organization director Joe Farrell and Pinellas Arts for a Complete Education representative Victoria Hagedorn.
Sue Castleman, the district's visual arts specialist who was recognized at the meeting as the National Art Education Association educator of the year, said her accomplishments would not have been possible without the referendum.
"Through the referendum we are able to provide art materials supplies, equipment, technology, training, field trips," she said, "all of this to enable our teachers to put all of their energies into teaching art, not worrying about some of the things they need to make sure they provide that curriculum."
Board member Linda Lerner, who has the longest tenure on the board since joining in 1990, said she remembered life before the referendum tax.
"As I visited schools I'd go into the art room and say 'What supplies do you need?'" she said. "Now I say, 'What has the referendum given you?' And it's been wonderful things."
All seven board members traded anecdotes and voiced their support.
"I ask that you support it and tell others, tell everyone you know to support it because we absolutely do need it," said board member Ken Peluso.