PERRY/Gunn talks education
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 12:00 AM
"The overwhelming number of our teachers are good," Speaker of the House Philip Gunn told the Stennis-Capitol Press Corps luncheon on Monday, "If we're going to demand more we need to pay them more." Gunn said he knows there are bad teachers and doesn't want to pay them, but there is no mechanism to differentiate them. "Tell me who they are and we won't pay them," Gunn said, "I wish they would go do something else."
Gunn said it would be two or three years before they could determine the good from the bad teachers and by then, good teachers will have waited ten years for a pay raise. He wants to raise teachers' base salary and also supports performance pay to "retain our best students and encourage them to go into education and reward our good teachers."
Gunn was not ready to put an amount on that raise. He said it depends on whether or not state revenues continue to increase and how much money is available in the budget; information he said would not be ready until March.
Gunn said the leadership of the House wants to put money in the classroom. He said he recently read "Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life" by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The book explains a "tooth to tail" ratio in dispersing resources at the Pentagon where the front line soldiers are the teeth of the dog and the rest of the dog should be supporting the teeth. Gunn said education funding should be directed to the classroom with anything else supporting the classroom and "there is no guarantee the money reaches the classroom in MAEP."
In response to a question, Gunn said he was not opposed to looking at a state employee raise as well.
Gunn also expressed support for appointed superintendents of education. He said his experience on his church search committee for a new pastor taught him you sometimes have to look outside your own box for leadership. He said they could not have found a qualified preacher within their own congregation; they had to look elsewhere. He said his committee had authority to look across the country to find a pastor and eventually called one from Georgia. Likewise, Gunn said, our schools should not be limited to finding their education leadership by the county line - which is what electing superintendents requires. He said a school district should be able to look outside the county if necessary to bring in their superintendent.
Gunn addressed spending and performance based budgeting. He said measuring a program's success can provide legislators with the information on whether to increase or eliminate funding. As examples he gave drug courts which have been successful and the investment is paying off; and the "scared straight" program many states have used which has not been effective and proved to be a waste of resources.
He said the legislative budget office's recommendation this year shows the legislature has changed its mindset on bonding, eliminated the use of one time money for reoccurring expenses and has suggested $540 million be placed in reserves. He said these are all items bonding agencies look at when considering the Mississippi bond rating.
Gunn expressed disappointment that the Department of Public Safety was unable to answer budget questions last year posed by legislators and this year has recommended level funding for the agency and requested an audit. Gunn said the agency is cooperating with the audit. He also supports Governor Phil Bryant's call for increased streamlining in corrections to save money and make the department more efficient.
Gunn was questioned on whether the legislature would assist the City of Jackson with infrastructure needs. He said as a resident of Clinton - within the Jackson metro-area - he was very aware of the need for a strong capital city. "If the core rots, everything around it rots," he said. But he said the issue of government buildings - which are not on the tax rolls - have not been a problem until just recently suggesting that the real problem is the city's declining tax base. Gunn said appropriations and bonding requests by Jackson have not met with legislative success and said the solution is raising the tax base by bringing new residents into town and creating new jobs. Gunn said he was willing to work with Jackson leaders to explore solutions, but he joked that if Jackson did not want state government buildings, he would be happy to move them to Clinton.
The luncheon at the Capital Club in Jackson is a program by the Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol Press Corps to facilitate dialogue between the press and government leaders. It is open to the public. Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves addressed the group as well.
Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant both say they do not support across-the-board pay raises for teachers. Instead, they support expansion of the merit pay pilot program instituted last year.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.