OUR OPINION: PUL must strive for school impact

By NEMS Daily Journal

One of the most positive influences of Toyota’s commitment to build an assembly plant near Blue Springs in Union County has been raised expectations in counties of the PUL Alliance – Pontotoc, Union and Lee – whose groundbreaking equal commitment to recruit and cost-share in the effort to recruit a Toyota-magnitude industry set a new standard for regional cooperation.
The county and city governments involved in the alliance knew that if a megasite industry could be brought to the alliance some of the long-term benefits would flow as development and production kicked in.
One of the benefits is a requirement by agreement that Toyota make an in-lieu of tax payment to each of the counties for education until regular ad valorem tax payments begin annually later after 10 years of in-lieu payments. Each county, next month, will receive at least $300,000 for this year’s payment.
We believe the spirit of raised expectations and achievement first seen in the alliance itself could appropriately be carried forward by using the in-lieu payment to enhance education in carefully chosen ways and without reducing any county’s existing financial commitment.
Push the expectation in the same way PUL and the Toyota commitment raised the bar.
Each of the counties can individually decide how the in-lieu funds can be divided once received, so it’s not expected that identical commitments will be made.
It’s important to maintain the “momentum” of exceptional commitments to the degree allowed under Mississippi law.
Similarly but completely separately Toyota further raised expectations with a $50 million endowment gift for PUL Alliance schools – $5 million per year over 10 years. Like the PUL Alliance, the gift, announced on signing day in 2007, raised expectations and a sense of what’s possible.
The trend of higher and better clearly was established from the beginning.
Boards of supervisors’ officials in all three alliance counties have said the $300,000 in lieu will be used for education, as intended. We hope the striving spirit seen in the Alliance, in its recruiting work, and in Toyota’s generous continuing responses and the obvious need to match what’s happening with stronger educational performance makes the case for more bold steps ahead.
Each of the school districts in all three counties, including line consolidated districts, will benefit from the in-lieu funds.
The financial benefit to counties from the Toyota achievement has started, probably most strongly in the good jobs linked to the plant in Blue Springs and supplier plants in the region.
Adequate, better education is the foundation on which the new Toyota jobs are built, and constant pushing ahead will help build the next generation of new jobs in the PUL Alliance and beyond in Northeast Mississippi.