Toyota on schedule with education trust payments

TUPELO – With $50 million, schools can fix a lot of roofs, add dozens of classrooms and hand out nice salaries, but that’s not how the Toyota education enhancement endowment fund is to be used.
Instead, Toyota’s $50 million – which the Japanese automaker will pay in 10 annual payments of $5 million – will be used to raise the level of education and opportunity in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties through programs and initiatives, some of which will take time to develop.
And even though Toyota has yet to decide when to open its Blue Springs plant, it has not backed away from its commitment to the education fund.
Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation, which will administer the fund, told a First Friday audience that Toyota will make its first payment in May, as promised.
And the counties’ school children won’t have to wait long before they’re reaping the benefits.
“We have estimated that in the first four years, we will spend about $1 million in each of those years,” Clayborne said. “In year five, we’ll then start generating more than $1 million a year, and that amount will grow as the fund grows.”
A six-person advisory committee also works with CREATE on what to do with the money. Each county is represented by one person, joining a Toyota Mississippi official, a CREATE official and the state superintendent of Education.
“There was a little misunderstanding in the beginning when Toyota made the announcement of the fund,” Clayborne said. “Some thought that checks would be handed out and the money could be used however they wanted. So that’s why we decided to form an advisory committee.”
The money, to benefit the eight school districts in the three counties, won’t necessarily be dispersed equally.
Rather, the money will be applied to programs that will provide the most benefit, what Clayborne said were “innovative approaches to ensure a bright future” for students.
The money is not to train workers for Toyota, but to train workers for future growth jobs, no matter the industry, Clayborne said.
Three programs the advisory committee have discussed include:
* An advanced career technical center, modeled after one in Texas.
* A consortium for education enhancement that would identify opportunities where the school districts could work together.
* An enhanced virtual learning experience that would involve more than online classroom training. Specifics are being worked out, Clayborne said.
An announcement is expected in the next couple of weeks that will provide more information related to the education trust, Clayborne said.
“We’re very excited about what’s going on in this area, and Toyota has reaffirmed that its first payment is next May,” he said. “So we’re sailing full steam ahead.”

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal