Tupelo schools pulled into the debate over road plan

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo school officials have become caught in the middle of a city debate between better roads and revitalized neighborhoods.
Greg Pirkle, who chairs the committee for the city’s Major Thoroughfare Program, raised the issue of school officials’ positions on the next phase of the program in an e-mail Thursday to MTP committee members, Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and the City Council.
The thoroughfare program has used a special voter-approved 10-mill tax levy to improve Tupelo’s major roads since 1991, and the next five-year phase will be up for a vote in May.
Pirkle wrote in the e-mail that Tupelo Public School District Chief Operations Officer Billy Crews and Superintendent Randy Shaver were opposing the next phase of the MTP.
That assertion was made in response to public comments that Crews and Shaver made in support of Reed’s proposed All America City Plan, which would take 5 mills, or $10 million, over the next five years that previously had gone to the MTP and use it to revitalize Tupelo’s neighborhoods.
“I do not know what is motivating them to take this position against us,” Pirkle wrote.
Later in the day Thursday, Crews and Pirkle met to discuss the issue.
After the meeting with Crews, Pirkle said that, to him, support for MTP also meant opposing efforts to take money from the program to use for the All America City plan.
That’s not exactly the position of Crews and Shaver, who both said they support MTP but also support Reed’s efforts to spend tax dollars to revitalize city neighborhoods.
The district and its board have not taken an official position on either Major Thoroughfare or the All America City Plan, Shaver said, although he has personally supported the plan.
“As a private citizen and taxpayer, I have shared my personal support for the mayor’s All America City Plan on several occasions,” Shaver said.
“I am not opposed to funding the projects of the Major Thoroughfare Committee. My understanding of the mayor’s All America City plan is that it will provide some funding for both worthwhile initiatives. I am for making Tupelo the best city we can be, which requires expending tax dollars for neighborhoods, as well as major thoroughfares.”
Added Crews, “The school system through myself, Dr. Shaver or anyone else has never opposed, nor will ever oppose, the Major Thoroughfare Plan. We have said we think any substantive initiative that helps attract and retain our city’s middle class population is very important to our public schools, including the proposed All America City Plan.”
Pirkle said he was disappointed that the school leaders did not support fully funding the thoroughfare program.
“While the school system purports to support the major thoroughfare plan, it is not the thoroughfare plan proposed by the thoroughfare committee,” Pirkle said. “Their definition is supporting thoroughfare plan money for projects other than building thoroughfares. There is not agreement between their position and our position.
“We believe all citizens are entitled to their position, but we believe they are taking a position that is contrary to ours, and we will continue to disagree with them.”
Proponents of the All America City plan have claimed that using money to revitalize neighborhoods would help Tupelo boost its middle class and in doing so help the schools thrive.
Opponents counter that declining schools are the reason that families are leaving Tupelo, and that revitalizing neighborhoods would not prevent that.
In his e-mail, Pirkle addressed “a rising community concern that the school administration is not addressing discipline issues.”
Crews and Shaver both declined to respond to the e-mail specifically.
“I have great respect for Greg Pirkle as chairman of the Major Thoroughfare Committee, and I have great respect for the leadership of Jack Reed Jr. as our mayor,” Shaver said. “Both of these leaders work hard toward the mutual goal of an improved city. Both of these leaders want what is best for Tupelo. So do I.”
Emily Le Coz contributed to this story. Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.