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Oversight group gets firsthand look at how school tax dollars are used in Pinellas County

Oversight group gets firsthand look at how school tax dollars are used in Pinellas County

10 Tampa Bay (June 6, 2024) ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As Pinellas County school district leaders gear up to ask voters for an increase to a budget-supplementing special property tax, the committee overseeing the money got a firsthand look at how the funding is implemented.

Members of the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee (ICROC) toured Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, as more than 230 arts students took part in the Ignite Arts Camp.

Days after their summer break, the students continue their learning not from traditional textbooks, but in music, theatre and dance.

“Every single auditorium in every high school has been upgraded through the referendum. All the band uniforms are because of the referendum, reading supplemental programs and certifications for teachers are because of the referendum,” said Mitch Lee, an ICROC member from the Pinellas Education Foundation.

The ICROC meets every 90 days and files an annual report on the spending.

Lee has been a member of the oversight group since voters first approved a .5 mill referendum in 2004 and every four years since.

“We get to see all the great things and impacts of the referendum funding, which is quite substantial at $60 million a year,” Lee explained. “This committee has done a very good job over the 20 years that I’ve been part of it. The funding goes exactly where it’s supposed to be.”

The money has been used to help supplement teacher salaries, reading, technology and the very art programs Pinellas County art students put on display Thursday.

“Getting kids engaged and involved in something they like makes them want to go to school, makes them want to do better in school. So, it’s absolutely critical,” Lee added.

“That’s one of the main things in my life that I enjoy doing,” said 8th grade trumpeter Elijah Davis of his music classes. “It adds an extra spark of joy.”

Lee says he can feel that joy and it’s why he’s pushing voters to continue their support by approving an increase to the millage this November.

Data shows the increase would provide an additional $67 million to the district and will also allow increased salaries for other staff including bus drivers, nurses and security guards.

“To stay competitive in the educational field for our teachers and our students, we need to have a full referendum passing again, this time for a full mill,” Lee said.

Watch the news clip and read the complete story on 10 Tampa Bay’s website.