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Oversight committee reviews Referendum spending

Oct. 27, 2021

 

 

Referendum funds have support teachers and students during the pandemic and created a foundation for future success.

The Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee (ICROC) met Tuesday to oversee revenue generated by the Pinellas County Schools Referendum.

Funds from the half-mill property tax boost reading, music and art programs; provide up-to-date technology and textbooks; and help recruit and retain quality teachers.

Last year, the Referendum generated about $48 million. Eighty percent of Referendum funds are allocated for teacher salaries. This school year, teachers are receiving a salary supplement of $5,375, an increase of $144 over last year.

Charter schools are public schools and will receive Referendum funding based on their student enrollment.

At the meeting, program supervisors shared reports with committee members, detailing how Referendum funds were spent several months last fiscal year. Some of the key expenditures include:

  • Quality art materials and supplies
  • Music, theater and dance equipment
  • Opportunities for students to collaborate with professional artists and performers
  • Digital art labs and performing arts technology
  • Literacy intervention programs for struggling readers
  • Teacher training opportunities
  • Interactive whiteboards and projectors
  • Educational software and electronic books

The Referendum has played a key role in providing technology for classrooms and increasing software applications, said Director Media, Text and Digital Learning Dr. Connie Kolosey.

During the pandemic, the district recognized the necessity of providing computers for all students. We launched an initiative called PCS Connects to make this goal a reality. And Referendum-funded Technology Integration Coordinators helped get teachers up to speed on virtual education and online tools that support the expansion of digital learning.

The Referendum also helped us alleviate expected learning declines, sometimes referred to as the “COVID slide,” said Elementary Reading and Language Arts Specialist Holly Slaughter. Her department also partnered with the Digital Learning department to develop digital content for classes and simultaneous teaching. Referendum dollars supported that work. Funding from the Referendum also helped the district cover printing and training costs to prepare teachers for the new state standards.

Staff members also talked about challenges they faced early this year, especially from January through March. PreK-12 Visual Arts Specialist Jonathan Ogle shared that we hosted significantly fewer field trips during that time because of the pandemic. Some museums were not allowing them at all. We also faced issues with covering classes and securing chaperones, he said.

But there have been bright spots. We were able to have all 22 of our student art exhibitions. And by summer, 400 students enrolled in PCS Summer Art Camps.

As we acclimated to a new normal, there was an uptick in equipment requests and band and choral activities, said PreK-12 Performing Arts Specialist Ajori Spencer.

We brought back the in-person Referendum music camp called Ignite Camp and doubled the number of students participating.

Spencer, who founded the successful camp, said he was glad that the program provided a positive transition to in-person learning for students who were previously learning from home.

"For some of the students, that really was their bridge back to school," he said.

Learn more about the Referendum at www.pcsb.org/referendum.