Referendum funds have been a 'game changer' for Pinellas students and teachers

The Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee met Wednesday to review quarterly spending.

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.

This year, the Referendum is providing about $60 million for those efforts, said Kevin Smith, Associate Superintendent of Finance and Business Services. Eighty percent of those funds provide a $5,734 salary supplement for each teacher.

It’s a significant amount of money coming into our district, providing incredible support to our district in terms of programs and salaries, Smith said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the committee reviewed spending for two quarters, July 2022 through December 2022. Program supervisors presented reports that summarized how Referendum funds were spent.

Jonathan Ogle, PreK-12 Visual Arts Specialist, highlighted growth in the digital arts and student accomplishments in state and national art competitions.

Last month, Pinellas students won 15 National Scholastic Art & Writing Gold and Silver Medals. And, recently, more than 130 students showcased artworks at State of the Digital Arts exhibits.

The quality of educators and the caliber of student artwork has improved because of the Referendum.

“I feel like that has really been a game changer for our students,” Ogle said.

PreK-12 Performing Arts Specialist Ajori Spencer highlighted the growth of professional teaching artist partnerships and the evolution of the IGNITE arts franchise, which he created.

The newest Referendum-funded program is the IGNITE Youth Choir, which gives children in grades 3-5, an opportunity to perform in a countywide choir. We may be the only district to have a district-run youth choir, Spencer said.

Our IGNITE Invitational brings world-class musicians from across the country to work with students. And our IGNITE Summer Camps give children opportunities to continue their performing arts experience over the summer.

The Referendum also supports digital learning. The Referendum funds five Technology Integration Coordinators, who help teachers use all forms of technology, said Digital Learning Program Coordinator Sarah Truelson. So far, this year, they have visited 118 of our schools, supporting teachers in a variety of areas, ranging from PreK to physics.

In elementary reading, the Referendum helped cover a 20 to 30 percent increase in printing, and the Battle of the Books for Boys (which we host in addition to our co-ed Book Battle) as well as covered the cost of printing items to improve the student experience. These included poster-sized maps from “The City of Ember” and a field guide from the book, “Manatee Summer.”

In middle school reading, the Referendum helped support engaging educational events, such as Trunk or Treat, Family Game Night, and Pizza Dinner.

Charter schools are public schools and, due to a new state requirement, they receive Referendum funding based on their student enrollment.

Amy Hayes, PCS Director of Charter Schools and Home Education, shared how charter schools are using Referendum funds. We are making progress with charter schools, which are learning how to spend and report Referendum funds. Committee members were pleased to hear that the majority are allocating 80 percent of their Referendum funding to teacher salaries, as our district does.

Not all charter school reports are consistent. To improve consistency, the district is planning a meeting to teach them how to properly report Referendum funds, said Smith, our associate superintendent of finance.

To learn more about the Referendum, visit