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By MITCH LEE, Special to the Times
Published January 18, 2008
In 2004, Pinellas voters overwhelmingly supported additional funding for our local school system, agreeing to a one-half mill supplement for a period of four years.
On January 29th, we have the chance to reaffirm that commitment to public education by voting to continue that levy for another four years. It is not just to support better teacher salaries, but also to prove that we value the programs the referendum has funded - rejuvenated arts and music programs, up-to-date text books and technology, and improved reading programs.
It is important to note that both the 2004 referendum and the continuation now before the voters use this local money only for local needs: 100% of the funds go directly into our classrooms. This money is not shared with Tallahassee and we decide in Pinellas County which programs to fund and how to get the most value for the money spent.
The 2004 referendum created an independent citizen's financial oversight committee to monitor the use of those funds and report back to the public. I serve on that oversight committee and am pleased to report that every dime has been used exactly as the voters directed - to increase pay, preserve art, music and reading programs and to provide up-to-date technology and textbooks for our kids. Full reports can be accessed at www.pcsb.org/Board/ICROC.html. What's more, continuation of this accountability for the next four years is guaranteed within the renewal ballot language.
I am a businessman and a fiscal conservative. I know that investment in our schools pays dividends far into the future. A well-trained workforce helps attract business to our area. Good school systems lead to less strain on social services, reductions in crime rates and higher property values.
Failing to adequately fund education is simply not smart!
Programs funded with local referendum dollars have made a positive difference in our classrooms that will be reflected positively in our community. A few dollars a month in additional taxes is a small investment when compared to the benefits we receive.
Lastly, we all know the value of those special teachers who are able to draw the very best from a child, instilling in them a love of learning that will truly change the course of their young lives. It is only through referendum dollars approved in 2004 that Pinellas has been able to offer teacher salaries competitive with surrounding counties. Each classroom teacher receives about $3,800 a year from the funds raised by this levy and that goes a long way toward helping us to recruit and retain the very best. This reality led many of us to support the referendum four years ago. The fact that our teachers will lose this supplement is a very compelling reason for continuation of the tax.
I know that great public schools contribute to great communities. I also believe that great communities value and support great public schools. On January 29th, each Pinellas voter will have the opportunity to make a small, but significant, contribution to our local schools. I'm voting to approve continuation of this important school funding and I urge you to do so as well.
Mitch Lee is Vice President of Raytheon Corporation in St. Petersburg and a board member of the Pinellas Education Foundation. He is also a member of the Independent Citizen Financial Oversight Committee established by the 2004 school referendum.
[Last modified January 17, 2008, 21:09:46]