PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Pinellas County Schools Referendum is up for renewal on the November ballot.
Voters have supported the renewal of the half-mill property tax every four years since it was first approved in 2004.
The money goes to local schools and an independent committee oversees the distribution.
Funds are earmarked for reading, music and art programs; technology and textbooks; and to provide teachers with a supplemental salary stipend and training.
District officials said during the pandemic, in particular, the money has provided an urgent financial boost.
For example, they said it was used to buy laptops and iPads that were loaned out to students to help with distance learning.
"I think it's pretty amazing that people in the community want to help kids and help them learn in other ways," said Samantha Rubin, a fourth-grade student at Leila Davis Elementary School.
District officials said tax dollars also paid for individual art supplies for students when they couldn't share anymore for safety reasons, and helped music teachers buy instruments and equipment.
"When I was in elementary school, there was one tambourine and you were sitting there waiting for the tambourine to get passed so I really like having 18 or 24 of everything so every child is engaged and involved and learning all the time," said David Martinez-Cooley, a music teacher at Lelia Davis Elementary School.
Martinez-Cooley said for some students, that arts have been "instrumental" in helping them cope during the pandemic.
"Just having something they could take home and work on and not have to wait to share, that's the best part," he said.
A portion of the referendum revenue supplements teacher salaries. This year, each teacher receives a salary supplement of $5,231 as part of their base salary.
It's estimated the tax costs the average single-family homeowner about $85 a year.
If approved, it will be in place for the next four years.
The money must now be shared with Charter schools by state law.