Several areas were touched on regarding public education and its future for DeSoto County during an open discussion held in Hernando Sept. 17.
Called “Ideas on Tap: The Future of Public Education,” the 90-minute long forum focused on the connection between public education and economic development in the area, primarily how the high quality of education continues to attract people and economy to DeSoto County.
The program, the second part of a two-part series, was presented by the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Phil Hardin Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.
Last month, a similar program looked at education at the statewide level, and included public education and charter schools.
On hand for the program were DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton, Northwest Mississippi Community College President Dr. Michael Heindl, and Corie Haynes, a local realtor and a parent of DeSoto County School District students. Tom Pittman of the Community Foundation served as moderator.
The Mississippi Humanities Council has held sessions like the one on Sept. 17 across the state to encourage a deeper discussion about state education issues.
“Public schools are why people are moving to DeSoto County,” Pittman said at the beginning of the session, to which Haines added, “DeSoto County Schools are what sells homes in DeSoto County.”
Heindl also pointed to DeSoto County as a major reason behind the growth of Northwest, now the third-largest community college in Mississippi.
On the topic of school funding, Uselton pointed out that, while the county is a growing area, the district continues to have to take a hard look at the budget. As the population grows and more homes are built, more property tax revenues come in.
“But people often overlook the fact that we are still in the bottom half for average funding per pupil in the state,” Uselton said.
Heindl called Northwest “a $60 million business,” when referring to the school. He said that, of that money, 40 percent of the funding comes from state funds, 50 percent from tuition and fees, and 10 percent from the financial support of the 11 counties that Northwest directly serves.
Another issue brought up during the discussion was on school security, with Uselton noting that the district has worked to have school resource officers for all of the school campuses and by being proactive with funding to each of the municipalities and the county to support the officers’ presence in the schools, a level now at $150,000 annually for each municipality and the county.
“Our schools do a great job of protecting our kids,” Haines added.
Heindl predicted that more jobs, even those that require at least bachelor-level degrees, will in the future also need a background with some type of career-based education, or as he called it, “a short-term, skill-based program. Most of our growth at Northwest have come in career programs.”
Uselton then cited the programs offered at Career Tech Centers in Horn Lake and Olive Branch and sending youngsters to activities, such as an upcoming Career Fair at the Landers Center that the DeSoto County Economic Development Council brought in for the first time last year, as a means of introducing careers to youngsters earlier in their school experience.
“Our most important task is preparing students for their next step, whatever that is,” said Uselton.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.