Toyota Donates $50M To Mississippi Education

Automaker wants the money to be used for enhancing school programs in counties close to its new manufacturing plant near Blue Springs.

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) -- Toyota Motor Co.'s announcement last year that it was building a new manufacturing plant near Blue Springs surprised many who thought the facility would be built elsewhere.

And it was a pleasant surprise for area leaders when Toyota revealed that it also would donate $50 million to schools in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties over 10 years.

But how that money would be distributed -- and how it will be spent -- hasn't been determined.

The general belief was that the donation -- $5 million per year for 10 years -- was going to be available right away.

Not quite.

Mike Clayborne, president of the CREATE Foundation, which will administer the funds, has had to clarify Toyota's intentions in recent weeks to school personnel, county supervisors and other elected officials.

''The most important emphasis is that this is an extraordinary gift from Toyota,'' he said. ''We have to remember that this gift came after the negotiations to get the plant in Northeast Mississippi. It came after the incentives, and Toyota didn't have to do anything like this.

''But this gift says about Toyota 'we value education' -- this is not about training people to work at Toyota. This is about helping improve education in the area because it's good for the area and no different from what any other company and community needs.''

Indeed, Toyota is donating $5 million a year for 10 years. However, that money will be going into an endowment, from which funds will be disbursed annually. Steadily building the endowment ensures the longevity of payouts.

''It's always been our intention that this was a long-term gift,'' said Jim Wiseman, vice president of external affairs for Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, or TEMA.

In fact, Ray Tanguay, TEMA's executive vice president, all but said Toyota would be putting the money into a long-term investment vehicle.

At the groundbreaking for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi on April 18, 2007, he said:

''We will contribute $5 million per year for 10 years to the local CREATE Foundation to further enhance schools and education opportunities primarily in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.

'' ... it assures our support will be long-term. This support will allow CREATE to gradually increase its base, which means our gift will be having an impact on local youth 50 years from now.

''As you know, a foundation will invest its funds and give out grants from earnings. And as its base grows, it gives out more and more grants each year.''

Toyota wants the money to be used for enhancing school programs and not to pay for the basics. Emphasis on math and science education, early childhood development and school-to-career resources are the company's priorities, Clayborne said.

However, it will be up to an advisory board and local school districts to determine how best to spend the money.

The six-member advisory board includes one person selected by each county's board of supervisors, state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi Vice President of Administration Dave Copenhaver and CREATE's Greg Pirkle.

Clayborne said the first meeting of the advisory board is planned in June, but not all members have been selected.

''There's a lot of preplanning needed,'' he added. ''If there are changes to be made in a school district's program, it takes a pretty long lead time to work them into place. It may seem to be plenty of time, but it will be here before we know it.''

Toyota will begin contributing to the endowment in 2010, when the plant will open.

Clayborne said CREATE plans to distribute $1 million each year for the first four years from the endowment. Starting the fifth year, the disbursements will be more than $1 million as the endowment grows, based on investment growth projections.

And typical of a foundation's operations, 5 percent of the endowment will be distributed each year after the fifth year.

As the principle grows each year in the endowment, that 5 percent distribution will mean even more money to the schools and communities in the long term.

''So ultimately, as we build toward $50 million, that 5 percent spending policy means at least $2.5 million each year,'' Clayborne said.

But that doesn't mean that the endowment fund will be capped at $50 million or the payments at $2.5 million. With interest compounding in the principle, those numbers can easily grow far bigger through the years.

So, rather than the spigot being turned off after 10 years, the $50 million will continue to benefit the region for decades to come.

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