Toyota money funds school initiatives

8Y2Q_djournal_education_school_bus_buses_stockBy Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippi school districts are using money they recently received from Toyota to fund technology upgrades and literacy initiatives, among other uses.

The payments are being made in-lieu of Toyota’s ad valorem taxes, as part of an agreement reached when the automaker located its new plant in Blue Springs. It calls for the company to provide at least $300,000 each to the three counties that worked together to attract it: Pontotoc, Union and Lee.

That money goes to supervisors, who determine how it will be distributed for educational purposes.

Pontotoc split the money on a per-pupil ratio between its city and county districts, and Lee County did the same for its four districts: Lee County, Tupelo, Nettleton and Baldwyn.

In Union County, the entire $300,000 sum was given to the Union County School District, as part of its local tax request, meaning New Albany Schools did not receive any of the funds.

That’s because the plant is located within the Union County district, said Union County Administrator Terry Johnson. After discussions with lawyers, Johnson said, the county determined state law dictated the money had to go to that district.

The other counties had more flexibility since the plant is not located there, Johnson said.

New Albany Superintendent Jackie Ford said the district understands the supervisors’ position and is looking at what options it may have to get its share of the money in the future.

Meanwhile, Pontotoc County Superintendent Kenneth Roye said his district would use its roughly $182,000 to lease new computers in order to be prepared for the new Common Core standardized tests, which are scheduled to be given online.

It also will provide iPads to all of its teachers.

“We are hoping this helps us on the technology side,” he said. “We needed a lot of help.”

Lee County Schools’ portion of about $150,000 will be used to pay off a shortfall note it borrowed to replace money the district requested from local taxes last year but did not receive. Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the district decided to use the in-lieu money to pay off the loan so that it did not have to raise taxes to make those payments.

Tupelo has not yet determined how it will use its funds, but Superintendent Gearl Loden said that when state funding begins to come back up, they anticipate using the funding for pre-K.

Nettleton will buy novels for high school students as part of its new literacy initiative and hire a teacher to staff its Student Resource Center two nights a week, Superintendent Russell Taylor said.

Baldwyn’s amount is very small because of its size, Superintendent Ronnie Hill said. The district would probably only receive a few hundred dollars, he said.

The in-lieu payments are entirely separate from the $50 million gift Toyota agreed to provide to enhance education in the eight school districts in the PUL counties. Toyota is providing that money in $5 million installments over 10 years and was not obligated to do so. The plan is for it to establish an endowment to benefit all eight districts.

State law allows companies with a capital investment greater than $100 million to reach an agreement to pay a determined sum in lieu of its ad valorem taxes for its first 10 years. That sum must be at least one-third of the company’s ad valorem levy.

In this case, Toyota agreed to a minimum payment of $3.4 million, a total that includes $2.5 million that will go to local governments to make bond payments related to Toyota improvements and $900,000 split between the three counties for educational purposes.

The money for education begins this year and lasts for 10 years. After that point, Toyota must pay its regular ad valorem taxes. The bond payments began last year and continue until the bonds are paid off in 2026.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com