By SUE STOOPS
I was an educator in Hernando County schools for 35 years, with 19 of those years as a school principal. I am keenly aware of the challenges our schools face and that those challenges have been compounded by the presence of COVID-19. I am writing to ask voters to support our schools and reiterate why this referendum is so important to our future.
There is a national teacher shortage and principals are finding it nearly impossible to fill vacancies with qualified applicants. Hernando County teachers are paid less than the state average making principals struggle not to lose their best educators to higher paying districts.
Keeping talented and caring teachers in Hernando County is one of the primary reasons for the referendum. Other than parents, the number one factor to a student’s success is the teacher in the classroom.
We are grateful that the governor and legislature recently made a commitment to increase salaries for beginning teachers, but nothing was allocated for our experienced teachers. This referendum allows raises for these experienced teachers and staff while putting the district in a more competitive position statewide. A total of 50% of the money generated by the one mill will go to raise salaries for our deserving teachers and staff.
Second, we will make our schools safer and more secure. Research shows when students feel safe, they achieve more, so 25% of the mill will go to help pay for a School Resource Officer in every school, better security and additional mental health services for identified students.
The remaining 25% of this money will provide updated technology in our schools and provide additional choices for students when charting their future. By offering a variety of relevant career and technical programs, along with advanced academic offerings, students can be the architects of their own learning goals and make informed decisions about their post-graduation options.
While some people may voice negative isolated national issues, I ask that you look homeward to our students and vote YES on this one mill referendum. The referendum is the last item on the ballot, but I hope it will be one of the first things on your mind when you cast your vote. The bottom line is that a small contribution from all property owners will make a measurable difference in the lives of our teachers, students and staff as well as to the future of Hernando County Schools.
For more information, go to ourhernandopac.org.