A referendum that really works

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Posted November 6, 2020 | By Joanne Crowder, Guest Columnist

When the economy crashed in 2009, I was one of the newer Marion County Public School teachers who received a termination notice. The news was devastating. I loved my school and had become involved in our community and formed wonderful friendships. Thankfully, I was rehired, but the funding crisis for our schools had only just begun.

The budget deficits caused over-crowded classrooms, the elimination of vocational programs, classroom aides, and the unfathomable loss of great teachers. Our elementary students only received library services, music, art and physical education for half of a year because we lost half of our special area teachers. There was just one teacher per subject for every two schools.

In 2014, the Marion County community saw firsthand the negative impact the recession brought to our schools. You said “yes” to our students by voting for a one-mill referendum to support teachers and crucial programs. You recognized the value that referendum had on our students, and you said “yes” again in 2018 with 73% of our community voting to continue the referendum.

Exactly what happens when voters say “yes” to the public school system?

Our referendum supports 100 highly qualified teachers and 192 paraprofessionals. It also reduces the number of students in each class and allows students to receive more individualized attention.

Continuing the referendum added funding for safety initiatives, including school resource officers at each school, fencing, cameras, and other key safety elements to keep our children safe while they are at school. In my role as the fine arts specialist, I visit all of our schools, and I am always happy to see the school resource officer’s vehicle prominently parked in front of each school.

Our district formed partnerships with business leaders, the CEP and the College of Central Florida to better align and expand our vocational and technical education programs to meet our community’s needs. Our Career Choice Academies serve as a talent pipeline to develop Marion County’s future workforce. This referendum supports 16 vocational teachers and over 30 vocational programs.

Thanks to the referendum, our students also have the benefit of receiving library media services, physical education, and music and art full time for the entire school year.  These programs benefit our children’s health, creativity, social skills and love of reading. The referendum also supports 51 physical education teachers and technicians, 27 media specialists and aides and 35 art and music teachers.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened had I not been rehired. I have succeeded in my new position and continue to be very active in our community by serving arts organizations and forging partnerships to highlight the talents of our students. I’m grateful for these responsibilities and the opportunity to fulfill them.

Thank you, Marion County, for supporting our students by repeatedly saying “yes” to our children. Rest assured your one-mill referendum directly benefits the students of Marion County. Investing in our children ensures their success and the well-being of our community for generations to come. 

Joanne Crowder is the Fine Arts program specialist for Marion County Public Schools.  She holds bachelor’s degrees in audio engineering and music education from Berklee College of Music and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Saint Leo University.

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