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Independent committee sees Referendum funds in action at Gibbs High

June 10, 2024

Students dance at Ignite Camp

Members of the committee that oversees Referendum spending toured the Ignite Performing Arts Camp at Gibbs High.

During their visit last week, they saw students dancing, drumming, creating digital music and performing musical theater.

“Ignite Arts Camp is one of the most impactful and highly visible ways that Referendum funding elevates the arts and expands student opportunities,” PreK-12 Performing Arts Specialist Ajori Spencer told committee members.

The camp kicked off six years ago with band and chorus and has expanded to musical theater, dance and orchestra. More than 230 students from 19 middle schools and 13 high schools are participating in the camp this summer, with the help of Referendum-funded transportation.

The camp was created to ignite students' interest in the arts. On day four of the camp, the musical theater class was prepping to perform “The SpongeBob Musical.” The digital music class was learning chords and baselines. The drumming students were engaging in improvisational drumming. And dance students were moving and grooving to “Take You to Rio,”

After the tour, the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee (ICROC) held its quarterly meeting. The committee meets four times a year to ensure that Referendum funds are spent as voters intended. Referendum funds boost reading, music and art programs; provide current date technology and textbooks; and help recruit and retain quality teachers.

Pinellas County voters have supported the Referendum every four years since it was first approved in 2004. The Referendum will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

At the ICROC meeting, Spencer provided an update on other expenditures including elementary music, choral support, technology training and marching band uniforms.

Because of the Referendum, more than 700 students were able to attend an educational program provided by one of the country’s best choirs, The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. Teaching artists from the Florida Orchestra have also made a major impact. Opportunities like these would not be available without the Referendum, Spencer said.

PreK-12 Visual Arts Specialist Jonathan Ogle was an art teacher in the district before the Referendum and recalled having limited resources back then. "Our arts teachers and students are so fortunate to have the Referendum," he said.

Some of the key expenditures in quarter 3 included art classroom libraries, digital arts student labs, and art field trips.

This year, PCS students again won “Best of Show” for both the 13th and 14th Congressional District Art Competitions. And 118 Gold Key artworks have gone on to national adjudication for the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In the last decade, PCS students have earned 130 national medals.

“I really believe that because we have had the PCS Referendum for 20 years, it has helped our visual arts programs flourish like never before,” Ogle said.

The Referendum also promotes current technology. Kim Hill, Director of the Office of Student Experience, said the Referendum provides funding for many of the educational software programs used by the district. The district meets regularly with partners to ensure that funding is in line with the district's needs.

“We keep an eye on that usage data every month, and we make our decisions on renewals for programs based on that usage data,” she told the committee:

Elementary Reading and Language Arts Specialist Holly Slaughter highlighted the use of funds to provide schools with books and materials to enhance learning and meet the demands of state reading standards. She also shared how the Referendum funds provide phonics resources to support our earliest readers.

“We’ve seen our greatest gains in third grade that we’ve ever seen before. We are far above the state in terms of proficiency,” Slaughter said.

“This would not be possible without the Referendum dollars,” she said.

Middle School Reading and Language Arts Specialist Carrie Greetham highlighted training opportunities and a Summer Reading Book Market that provided 12,500 books to sixth and seventh graders.

Charter schools also receive Referendum funds based on enrollment. Director of Charter Schools and Home Education, Bonnie Solinsky, said that this year, the district instituted a monthly audit to ensure that spending aligns with the charter school expenditure plans.

Learn about the Referendum and see the full ICROC report at

DrummingMusical TheaterDanceDigital Music