Half-penny tax at work in schools
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.