HPSD tag funds grants, scholarships

If you drive in Forrest or Lamar counties, you see them everywhere. You may even have one on your vehicle. If you do, you are paying it forward for at least three educational institutions in the Pine Belt.

The item that adorns many vehicles in Forrest and Lamar counties are the license plates that show the owner’s support for Hattiesburg, Oak Grove  or Petal schools.  While the motorist is showing support for the schools, they are also donating to the students identified by those car tags.

In Hattiesburg, the Hattiesburg Public School District Foundation received about $8,544 in 2016, Katie Lawson, director of communications for the State Dept. of Revenue, said. Dan Kibodeaux works with the Hattiesburg Public School District Foundation, which receives the money from the license plate sales and renewals.

“To me, it’s that advertising driving down the road,” Kibodeaux said. “We are all separate 501(c)3 foundations from our school districts. When this foundation was originally formed a few years ago in Hattiesburg’s history, it was formed under the school board’s governance. The auditors came in and said, ‘Well, you know you hired an employee running a public foundation and you really can’t do that.’ They needed to be separate, so we formed a 501(c)3 and are looking for revenue streams to fund these operations. This one is just a no-brainer.”

Kibodeaux said the funds go toward teacher grants and scholarships.

“I know that we tried this Hattiesburg several years ago and they never managed to get the number they needed for the tag,” he said. “At that time, the school district was running the campaign, so it couldn’t go out and buy tags to make up the difference.”

When the latest effort came up to have a Hattiesburg school license plate, Kibodeaux said the issue was settled.

“I kept scratching my head, going, ‘We’ve got Petal to the east and they’ve got a tag,’” he said. “‘We’ve got Oak Grove to the west and they’ve got one. Why don’t we have one?’ It’s just a matter of pride when you drive down the road.”

For Kibodeaux, the answer is easy.

“It’s not something you don’t have to have; it’s a car tag,” he said. “At the end of the day, it boils down to supporting and growing the teachers and the kids in the classrooms.”

Petal apparently leads the three schools in the amount of funds collected through license plate sales with about $15,720 in 2016, all of which goes to the Petal Education Foundation. The figures are available on the website for the state Department of Revenue, which collects the license plate money from Mississippi’s 82 counties.

Each of the three schools receives $24 from the total fee on each tag. Oak Grove and Hattiesburg license plates cost an extra $31 on every tag, while Petal motorists who prefer the panther on their plate pay $33.50.

Leahne Lightsey, executive director of the Petal Education Foundation, said having a Petal tag supports the district’s educational needs.

“I am so excited because we are in the 1,600s now,” she said. “Of course, that is not consistent with people moving in and out of the school district. With the car tags, the foundation reaps the rewards.”

Lightsey said having families with children in the school district with the car tags is important.

“We are trying to encourage families to get the car tags, especially the younger families that might have a preschooler or kindergarten student starting school,” she said. “We get about $24 from each car tag every year, when it is first purchased or when it is renewed.

We use that money to provide grants for the teachers.”

The Oak Grove High School Parent-Teacher Organization received about $8,856 from the $24 from each tag that was purchased, Lawson said. The group raises a total of about $13,000 a year with license plates and parking passes for home football games, according to the PTO website.

Lucy Scott, a PTO member whose youngest child graduates this year, said the car-tag funds are a surprise and a blessing.

“It’s like Christmas every month,” she said. “You never know what is going to come from the sales or the renewals of the tags.”

Scott said the Oak Grove High School PTO funnels the money back to the teachers and the students.

“Last week, we had Teacher Appreciation Week,” she said. “We tried to do something every day for the teachers, with a meal one day, coffee and doughnuts, sweets and coffee and other things.”

The funds that come from the license plates is the major funding for the PTO, Scott said.

“All that we have is funded from the car tags,” she said. “We do ask for membership fees, but that doesn’t amount to as much as the other. We are grateful because it’s very nice to be able to help. We keep the money for the teachers and the students and we also provide teacher grants where we can.”

The difference between the $31 or $33.50 total that is paid for the specialty tag and the $24 that goes toward education comes in the extra services that are added. Money also goes to the State Highway Fund, the County Tax Collector, the Mississippi Burn Center, the Department of Revenue and the Department Archives and History.

Of course, public and private Mississippi universities also have special license plates that cost $51 annually. Public universities receive $32.50 from the sales of the car tags, while private universities receive $31.50. Public junior or community colleges receive $32.50 of every extra $51 in license plate fees.