PUL center funds still up in the air

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House members from the PUL Alliance counties of Pontotoc, Union and Lee say some school officials have expressed concerns about a high-tech education center planned near the Toyota manufacturing plant.
House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said the recommendation of those legislators will affect whether he takes up a bill to provide $6 million in state bonds to help with construction of the Center for Professional Futures.
“There is some question about the support of the PUL superintendents,” said Rep. Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc.
In past interviews, David Rumbarger, president of the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation, has described the center as “a game-changer” for the area. It would provide instruction in various high-tech fields for students from high schools in the three counties.
The school would be operated with funds from a $50 million grant from Toyota to improve education in the region. The state bonds would be seed money to help with the projected $37 million cost of construction.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said many of the region’s superintendents support the center in concept but question how it would work practically. They’ve expressed concern about transporting students from schools that could be 45 minutes away from the Blue Springs location.
The plan is for students to spend three hours per day at the school taking the advanced technology classes.
“We’re still studying it,” said Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, when asked about the center.
Huddleston said he supports the concept, but wants more information in how it would work.
While today is a deadline to pass bond bills, even if it is not passed out of the House today, the project could be added to another bond bill later.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com