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  1. Education

Pinellas School Board members encourage voters to start at the bottom of the ballot

Published Oct. 13, 2012

When it comes to your ballot, bottoms up.

That's the message some members of the Pinellas County School Board would like to tell voters before the Nov. 6 election. The school district's tax referendum is at the bottom of a lengthy four-page, two card ballot — after 11 constitutional amendments — and some board members fear voters could overlook it.

"We're the last thing on the ballot," said board member Carol Cook.

The special tax is up for its third renewal. Voters first approved it in 2004, then again in 2008. The tax provides about $30 million to the school district each year, with 80 percent supporting teacher salaries and 20 percent going to reading, arts, music and technology programs.

The tax will expire in June 2013.

The School Board has to be careful not to directly advocate for a ballot item. School officials, however, can provide factual information about the special tax.

School officials already have encouraged principals to put blurbs about the referendum in school newsletters and to make robo calls to families. Board member Linda Lerner suggested the school marquees also could be a place to remind voters to start at the bottom of the ballot.

Board members have been making the rounds at Rotary clubs and other community groups, too. Cook talked about the tax at a coalition of neighborhood associations. Board chairwoman Robin Wikle discussed it at a north county Rotary breakfast, while Lerner visited a mid county Rotary luncheon.

Revenues from the tax, totaling about $235 million since its inception, are folded each year into the district's budget. For homeowners, it amounts to about $50 per year per $100,000 in assessed, taxable value.

This year, the average single-family home in Pinellas County had a value of $137,911. With a homestead exemption, the homeowner would pay $56.46 a year for the special tax. The total school bill, including the special tax, would be less than $1,000.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

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