Monday, May 28, 2018
Education

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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.

   
Comments
Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

Sparks fly among Hillsborough School Board members as private messages are leaked

TAMPA — Somebody got into Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively’s Facebook account, copied her messages and gave them to a newspaper publisher who is a friend of her rivals on the board.The posts discussed politics and power struggl...
Published: 05/25/18
Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

Eckerd College student who fell before graduation has died

ST. PETERSBURG — An Eckerd College student who was critically injured last weekend during an accidental fall on campus shortly before she was to graduate died today, the school announced.Rebecca Ryan "Becca" Lavin-Burgher would have graduated with a ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Published: 05/24/18
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

Company in charge of Hillsborough substitute teachers weighs in on problem cases

TAMPA — The company hired by the Hillsborough County School District to fill more than 170,000 substitute teaching shifts every year is defending its record, saying it works to get to the bottom of allegations against employees, treat them fairly and...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18