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Pinellas County voters may decide on proposed tax increase to boost school funding

Pinellas County voters may decide on proposed tax increase to boost school funding

10 Tampa Bay (May 7, 2024)

LARGO, Fla. — Pinellas County voters may have another question on their ballot this November: whether to raise a property tax to bolster school funding.

At a workshop session Tuesday, the Pinellas County School Board moved closer to asking voters whether to double an existing school referendum from .5 mill to 1.0 mill.

One mill is equal to “one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value,” according to Investopedia. 

Under the proposal, a homeowner with a property taxable value of $200,000 would pay $200 a year, up from the $100 they’ve paid since the referendum was first adopted in 2004 (and subsequently every four years since). Proponents say the increase is necessary to help attract and retain teachers, combat staff shortages and keep arts, music, STEM and reading programs afloat.

“This will help us to keep the best and brightest in our classrooms, and the beautiful part is, it’s local money, locally raised, locally controlled,” Citizens for Pinellas Schools official Beth Rawlins said. “None of it goes anywhere other than Pinellas County classrooms.” Rawlins has pushed and advocated for the referendum since its inception.

“This has been a wonderful thing for Pinellas County and it could be even better,” Rawlins said, adding the increase would put Pinellas in line with nearby school districts.

According to the presentation at the workshop Tuesday; Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, and Sarasota counties all have a 1.0 mill operating millage for schools. Hillsborough County voters will decide on a millage again in November — the vote failed previously. The tax generated $60.1 million for Pinellas Schools last year; $44.4 million went to teachers’ salaries, $11.1 million went to reading, arts and technology and $4.6 million went to charter schools. Roughly $6,000 of Pinellas teachers’ salaries came from the tax. If the increase is approved, it would get bumped to more than $11,000.

For the first time, the proposal would help boost pay for school support staff like bus drivers, nurses and security guards by nearly $3,000, as the district grapples with shortages.

“All of those people are so important to the educational system,” CEO of the Pinellas Education Foundation Kim Jowell, one of seven member organizations whose representatives make up the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee, said. The committee oversees the tens of millions of dollars it generates to ensure it gets spent properly.