Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas School Board steers tax renewal to November ballot

After hovering in the background for months, a voter referendum to renew a $30 million tax increase for Pinellas schools came into sharp focus Tuesday.

The Pinellas School Board voted 7-0 to steer the referendum to the Nov. 6 ballot, a move that will begin to accelerate chatter around the biggest issue facing Pinellas schools this year.

"Even in grocery stores, as I'm going along, it's like, 'When is the renewal coming up?' " said board member Carol Cook. "These are community members … (whose) children are enjoying and appreciating … what this referendum has been able to give them."

Voters approved the property tax increase in 2004 and renewed it in 2008, both times by big margins. If it's not renewed again, collection will end on June 30, 2013.

In better economic times, the hike — 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property value — raked in more than $30 million each year. But with declining property values, it's expected to bring in $28 million next year. Eighty percent goes to teacher salaries, boosting them by about $3,000 each and keeping them competitive with surrounding districts. The rest is divided among art, music, reading and technology programs.

All of it is watchdogged by a citizens committee that puts out an annual report detailing how the money was spent.

"We have an amazing success story to tell," said Beth Rawlins, who chairs a political action committee supporting the referendum. "The collection and administration of these local funds has been flawless."

Among the purchases: Computer labs in every high school. Thousands of library books. Art supplies for every grade.

Business leaders, real estate agents, the teachers union and other groups are mobilizing to support the referendum, which may face a tougher slog this year because of surly voters and a still-limping economy. But Rawlins said the referendum's design — specific, limited in duration and independently scrutinized — may satisfy those with concerns about government spending.

She said she recently used members of a tea party organization as an unofficial focus group.

"I actually got a positive response," she said. "When I explained … how it's structured and how it has to come back before voters, I didn't encounter any resistance."

Supporters could have asked the School Board to put the referendum on the August primary ballot, Rawlins said. But in the end they decided the referendum had a better shot with the bigger, more diverse group of voters expected in November.

Tuesday's vote sends the resolution to the Pinellas County Commission, which has a ministerial duty to pass it on to the Pinellas supervisor of elections, Rawlins said.

In the meantime, supporters will step up efforts to raise campaign money and begin addressing the issue in meetings with civic groups. Some will also begin drawing up plans for door-to-door efforts later this year.

"This money has meant so much to the Pinellas County school students," said board member Janet Clark. "As a glass half empty kind of girl, I'm really positive about this passing."

Ron Matus can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas School Board steers tax renewal to November ballot 02/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 8:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy


    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.