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Voters approve St. Lucie County school referendum, tax hike

Posted at 6:42 AM, Apr 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-24 04:35:04-04

FORT PIERCE, Fla. —Voters approved Tuesday's St. Lucie County school referendum with a 66 percent vote, which will increase property taxes to pay for teacher salaries and school security measures.

“The record number of returned ballots and support from our community speaks volumes to the value placed on a quality public school education system. High performing students must have high performing teachers, and they must have opportunities to learn on safe and secure campuses,” said Superintendent Gent.

Gent said that students will also benefit from expanded mental health services and important programs afforded to them by this referendum.

“Many people worked hard to help educate the community on the need and the benefits of this referendum,” said School Board Chair Debbie Hawley. “We appreciate the collaboration and dedication of our employees, union partners, parents, business partners, community groups, and civic organizations.”

According to Gent, funds will only be utilized as they were promised.

“As an added layer of assurance, the District will form an Advisory Committee to provide oversight on expenditures,” he said.

The state average salary for teachers is $48,168.

The average salaries for teachers for 2017-18 are as follow:

Palm Beach County $50,269

Indian River County $48,399

Okeechobee County $46,032

St. Lucie County $45,527

Martin County $45,286

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St. Lucie County teachers reacted Tuesday night to the passing of the referendum which will lead to them getting raises.

“Elated. Excited. Proud that the county stood up and said yes, we support our teachers and our schools and our students,” said St. Lucie West K-8 teacher, Colleen Peterson. “It’s not that we want more money. We want more for our students. And to have highly qualified teachers, you have to pay them.”

St. Lucie County was struggling to be competitive with pay for teachers, compared to nearby school districts. This should change that.

"We have many teachers just at this school alone that have second and third jobs,” Peterson said.

“This will make our teacher salaries and our pay competitive with surrounding counties who have passed similar referendums, as well. And just as important, we will be able to maintain a school resource officer on every campus to keep our children safe and to keep our staff safe. So, we’re just ecstatic,” said Gent.

Gent also said more money will be put into mental health services at schools.

St. Lucie West K-8 Testing Coordinator, Claudia Martin-Vegue, says this should also help keep experienced teachers in the district.

“We’ve had teachers at this school have to leave in the middle of the year because they cannot financially stay within our county,” Martin-Vegue said.

It is a morale boost they were hoping for to wrap up the school year.

St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections, Gertrude Walker, said this was the county’s first all mail-out election. She said it was also the highest turnout ever for a single-issue election.

The average homeowner with a $200,000 home will now pay an extra $8.50 a month over four years.

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