Half-penny tax at work in schools

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - VOICES & OPINION - By Don­ald E. Fen­noy II

It’s been more than a year since the com­mu­nity ap­proved the penny sales tax ref­er­en­dum that is shared be­tween the Palm Beach County School Dis­trict, the county gov­ern­ment and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

The first rev­enues couldn’t come fast enough for many of our dis­trict fa­cil­i­ties that were long suf­fer­ing as a re­sult of $1 bil­lion in de­ferred main­te­nance ex­penses. Our fa­cil­i­ties team has al­ready com­pleted 17 much-needed projects, in­clud­ing new roofs for Lan­tana and Carver Mid­dle Schools, new chillers for Light­house and Pan­ther Run Ele­men­tary Schools and mul­ti­ple paving, light­ing and wa­ter­proof­ing projects. An ad­di­tional 14 projects are cur­rently in progress, in­clud­ing new roofs for West Riviera Beach and K.E. Cun­ning­ham/Canal Point Ele­men­tary Schools, and new chillers for Palm Beach Lakes High, Bear Lakes Mid­dle, and Belvedere and Grassy Wa­ters Ele­men­tary Schools.

Twelve projects will be­gin this sum­mer and a to­tal of $300 mil­lion in projects are out for bid at this time. The dis­trict in­tends to keep its prom­ise to com­plete the cap­i­tal im­prove­ments of our schools on time and on bud­get, and an ag­gres­sive time­line is es­sen­tial to stay­ing ahead of rising con­struc­tion costs.

More im­por­tantly, the penny sales tax boosts dis­trict spend­ing on safety and se­cu­rity to $40 mil­lion to cre­ate sin­gle point of en­tries for all schools and en­hance school cam­pus hard­en­ing mea­sures. Ad­di­tional fund­ing from the state Leg­is­la­ture will also help cover the cost of one law en­force­ment of­fi­cer on each cam­pus next year, sig­nif­i­cantly boost­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of a law en­force­ment pres­ence on cam­puses.

The tragedy in Park­land greatly in­flu­enced the pace of work with planned fa­cil­i­ties im­prove­ments. Not only are we ac­cel­er­at­ing se­cu­rity projects, but re­ex­am­in­ing the sta­tus quo of the ma­te­ri­als we have tra­di­tion­ally uti­lized in schools. In short, we want to pur­chase the best fences, most com­pre­hen­sive lock­ing sys­tems and other se­cu­rity tech­nol­ogy that har­den our schools from threats.

The penny is at work in our schools in other ways that are not as vis­i­ble. The band­width re­quired for stu­dent learn­ing is vastly dif­fer­ent than it was just a decade ago. Con­nec­tiv­ity needs to be ro­bust enough to ac­com­mo­date on­line video con­fer­enc­ing and ac­cess to on­line text­books with down­loads, videos and an­i­ma­tion, all while uti­liz­ing up-to-date fil­ters that pre­vent in­ap­pro­pri­ate ma­te­rial or viruses from in­fil­trat­ing our sys­tem. The dis­trict’s tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture is be­ing up­graded to make wi-fi more re­li­able and ac­ces­si­ble to stu­dents and staff, and key hard­ware sys­tems have been re­newed or ex­panded to pre­vent the risk of sys­tem-wide out­ages that would dis­rupt class­room learn­ing and other dis­trict op­er­a­tions. By the end of this fis­cal year, $10 mil­lion of ref­er­en­dum funds will be uti­lized to en­sure a 21st cen­tury learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Speak­ing of the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment, a lot has changed since you and I were in school. Many schools will re­ceive al­lo­ca­tions to up­grade fur­ni­ture that is more con­ducive to stu­dent col­lab­o­ra­tion and hands-on learn­ing, and the first round of class­rooms have re­ceived au­dio en­hance­ment sys­tems. These en­hance­ments en­sure ev­ery stu­dent can hear their teacher in ad­di­tion to any au­dio that is be­ing used as part of the les­son. Many of our older schools weren’t built with acous­tics in mind, and a sim­ple mi­cro­phone can go a long way in saving a teacher’s voice for an­other day!

This fis­cal year will also bring 20 new cars for our School Po­lice force, 80 new buses, and ad­di­tions to the white fleet our main­te­nance crew uses to travel to schools.

If you would like to see what your neigh­bor­hood school will re­ceive as a re­sult of the com­mu­nity’s sup­port of the sales tax ref­er­en­dum, visit palm­beach­schools.org/ref­er­en­dum2016.

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