Pinellas school tax wins third renewal by largest margin ever

Layla Summers, front right, works to draw on her iPad during a third-grade art class at Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg in 2014. The devices were paid for with a special school tax that was first approved in 2004 and appeared headed for another renewal on Tuesday. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Layla Summers, front right, works to draw on her iPad during a third-grade art class at Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg in 2014. The devices were paid for with a special school tax that was first approved in 2004 and appeared headed for another renewal on Tuesday. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published November 9 2016
Updated November 9 2016

Pinellas County voters have renewed a special property tax that brings in millions each year to supplement teacher salaries and boost funding for art, music and reading instruction.

The four-year tax garnered 76 percent of the vote on Tuesday, quelling supporters' fears of voters not appreciating the positive impact the tax has had on the school system. That turnout is the largest margin of victory for the tax since Pinellas voters first approved it in 2004.

"Obviously the voters have seen the success of the referendum programs and renewed their commitment to our kids and our community," said Beth Rawlins, chairwoman of Citizens for Pinellas Schools, a political committee advocating for the tax.

The tax was renewed in 2008 with 70 percent of the vote. Votes in 2004 and 2012 finished with 63 percent.

The tax is 50 cents on every $1,000 of assessed taxable value. For the owner of a single-family home with a $25,000 homestead exemption and a taxable value of $170,000, the median in Pinellas, the tax comes to $72.50 a year.

Without that revenue, the school district would have to make up a budget shortfall of about $33 million a year.

For the next four years, classroom teachers can expect to receive their supplement, which for 2016-17 is $3,827. About 80 percent of the revenues from the tax go to the supplement.

The remainder is spent on art, music and reading programs, which will continue on under an independent committee's oversight. This year, $410,000 was spent for items such as iPad labs at four middle schools and eight elementary schools, $442,000 was allocated for salaries and instruments for the strings program, and $376,000 went to text support to help teachers meet Florida standards.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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