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  1. Opinion

The Pinellas referendum to renew a school tax: The Times Editorial Board recommendation

Should Pinellas residents renew a half-mill property tax to boost their schools?

For 16 years, enlightened Pinellas voters have overwhelmingly agreed to pay a bit more in property taxes to directly benefit their local public schools. They should do so again in the Nov. 3 general election by re-approving the half-mill property tax.

Voters had already seen the value of this tax when they voted for it in 2004 and renewed it in 2008, 2012 and 2016. But this year is different — and more urgent. Here’s just one example. Because of the pandemic and distance learning, students needed laptops and iPads to learn from home. Thousands didn’t have them, so the Pinellas School District loaned them out. Many of them had been purchased with money raised by the referendum. That’s just one way way this has directly benefited the students.

Since 2004, the tax has generated $477 million for the district, which is dedicated to teacher salaries, art, music and technology. There are no administrative costs, so 100 percent of the referendum funds goes where it’s needed. An independent citizen oversight committee oversees every penny that is spent.

In addition, the monies allow Pinellas to give teachers an extra stipend. For the 2020-21 school year, they will receive $5,231. Support like this helps the district to recruit the 400 to 600 teachers it needs each year.

This extra revenue source has made Pinellas schools better. Last year, the tax cost the average single family homeowner $7.15 a month — that’s less than two Big Macs — and raised roughly $44.5 million. If voters approve the tax, it will remain in effect for another four years. But if they turn it down, that money will evaporate, leaving schools — and students — in the lurch when they most need support. There is one wrinkle: A revised state law requires that charter schools get a share of the money for the first time to use in the same way that traditional public schools use the money.

Remember, this is not a new tax. It is simply renewing a tax that Pinellas residents have agree to pay time after time because of the clear benefit it brings. This is a continuing investment in our community. This tax predates every student currently attending a public school in Pinellas, and they all have benefited from it.

While renewing a tax can be a difficult decision during the economic unease spawned by a pandemic, the district has shown that it is a wise investment in students. On renewing the Pinellas half-mill school tax, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends voting Yes.

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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