A major test of Tupelo’s civic health will occur a week from tomorrow when voters decide the fate of a $44 million bond issue for the Tupelo Public School District.
Passage of the bond issue – which would not mean a tax increase – would affirm Tupelo’s historic can-do attitude and desire to keep the community moving. Defeat of the bond issue would signal a decline in Tupelo’s unique status among Mississippi cities and a decided turn in the wrong direction.
It really is that simple – and that important.
The underlying foundation for the national and internationally acclaimed economic growth, community cohesiveness and quality of life Tupelo has enjoyed in the post-World War II period has been its high expectations and steadfast support for its public school system. Anyone who has studied Tupelo – and there have been many – has come to the same conclusion: Tupelo has understood and acted upon the premise that the public school system is the critical starting point for community progress and the heart of a healthy city.
The schools are at a point where they need a reaffirmation of the community’s support, not for state-of-the-art new buildings or extraordinary projects, but for maintenance of buildings, technology and transportation and increased safety and security for students.
The $44 million in bonds would add a few extra classrooms to accommodate growth at Tupelo Middle School and the Early Childhood Education Center, but beyond that, it’s things like roof and HVAC repairs, school buses and computers, sensible safety upgrades and other practical needs.
The bonds approved in 1999 that built two new elementary schools and the Performing Arts Center at Tupelo High, among other additions and improvements, are being retired, which is why the new bonds can be issued without a tax increase. With interest rates still at historically low levels, there’s no better time to act.
Had the state met its legal obligations to Tupelo, the needs would not be as pressing. But unfortunately, the Legislature hasn’t followed its own school funding law and has shorted Tupelo $24 million since 2008.
But a defining characteristic of Tupelo’s community character has always been that while it will take help from the outside, it doesn’t rely on Jackson or Washington to determine whether it moves forward or not.
When it’s time to act on its own behalf to support and develop its own people, Tupelo has always met the test.
Another test is upon us. On April 28, Tupelo must continue to be Tupelo by overwhelmingly passing the school bond issue.