Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Nearly 10 years old, special Pinellas school tax seen as 'a blessing' to arts, technology programs

ST. PETERSBURG — Flip books, with a stick figure walking across the pages, have gone digital at Lakewood Elementary.

Flowers bloomed. Fish swam. Rain fell. All with the help of Flip It, an iPad arts program based on the idea of animating old-school flip books. Third graders drew with their fingertips, carefully adding digital pages to their "books" to make pictures come to life with a press of the screen.

Art teacher Sue Bley called it a "whole different game."

Lakewood Elementary is one of about a dozen elementary schools that will take a turn this year with the Pinellas County school system's new traveling iPad arts labs. The initiative is one that likely wouldn't be possible without a special property tax approved by voters for the third time last year.

The property tax, which brought in $24.4 million to public schools last year, primarily supports teacher salaries. About 20 percent of the money raised each year goes to technology, arts, music and reading. It has been credited with preventing the kind of budget cuts that have curtailed arts programs in other counties.

"It's phenomenal — actually, I would say it's almost frightening the things our students would not have if not for the generosity of our citizens," said Linda Kearschner, immediate past chair of the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee, or ICROC, which keeps tabs on how the public's money has been spent.

Committee members will give the School Board an update Tuesday about how the property tax money was used in the 2012-13 school year. The tax was first approved in 2004, then again in 2008 and 2012, each time with overwhelming support of voters. With the recent renewal, the tax won't go before voters again until 2017.

For a homeowner, it amounts to about $50 per year per $100,000 in taxable value. The tax has raised more than $230 million since collections began. All of the tax dollars stay in Pinellas.

Most of the money spent last year — $22.6 million — boosted teacher salaries, with each teacher getting a bit less than $3,000. The rest paid for teacher training, art supplies, books and musical instruments, among other items.

Kearschner said the money was "distributed well" throughout the county. Tax dollars were used to bolster existing programs as well as to add new ones, she said.

Northeast High added a choral director, part of an effort to revive its program. Dixie Hollins High got new band uniforms. More than 100 schools received SMART boards; 366 boards were distributed. More than 6,000 students went on field trips to local museums and galleries.

Jonathan Ogle, an art technology specialist, said tax dollars have paid for better quality art supplies each year; one of the first big improvements after the referendum passed was buying new furniture for arts rooms.

The traveling iPad art labs, which will go to a dozen schools this year, including Lakewood Elementary, are an important addition to the arts curriculum, he said. With more digital arts in middle and high schools, school officials thought it made sense to expand to younger grades, he said. They couldn't afford iPads for every elementary school so the concept of the traveling arts lab was born. The iPads were purchased last year.

About a dozen third graders at Lakewood Elementary used the iPads last week to make flip books.

Nya Celestin, 9, colored her entire screen blue before adding three orange fish. To make them move, she drew each fish again on separate pages, a little farther away each time. Her art teacher, Bley, had to remind her to redraw each fish, rather than jumping from three on one page to one on another.

The drawing exercise was familiar to Layla Summers. The eight year old said she doesn't draw on paper. She has an iPad to use at home.

Ogle said part of adding technology to classrooms is to reach students where they are; even many toddlers now are adept at using an iPhone. Many of those efforts wouldn't be possible without the special property tax, he said.

"(It) has been such a blessing."

Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.

Nearly 10 years old, special Pinellas school tax seen as 'a blessing' to arts, technology programs 01/12/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 12, 2014 9:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bono and Bush: Former president shares photo of visit


    A surprising photo showed up Friday on former President George W. Bush's Instagram feed. Apparently Bono made a visit to the ranch:

  2. After trip's final day, Trump to return to tumult at home


    TAORMINA, Italy — Down to the final day of his lengthy first international trip, President Donald Trump will lift off for Washington having rattled some allies and reassured others, returning to a White House that sits under a cloud of scandal.

    G7 leaders sign the G7 Taormina Statement on the Fight Against Terrorism and Violent Extremism at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Italy on Friday.  (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)
  3. Islamic State claims responsibility for Egypt attack


    MINYA, Egypt — The Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for the attack on a bus carrying Christians on their way to a remote desert monastery south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, which killed 29.

    Relatives of killed Coptic Christians grieve during their funeral at Abu Garnous Cathedral in Minya, Egypt, on Friday. Egyptian officials say dozens of people were killed and wounded in an attack by masked militants on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, including children, south of Cairo.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
  4. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.
  5. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans


    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...