October 26, 2011 4:02:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Johnny DuPree sees a lot of Hattiesburg in Starkville.
The third-term Hattiesburg mayor and Democratic candidate for governor has steered Hattiesburg to national recognition for its quality of life policies passed since he's been in office. Both Hattiesburg and Starkville, home to the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University, respectively, are smoke-free towns and have been proactive in creating sufficient sidewalks and bike paths.
DuPree, who spoke Tuesday at a MSU College Democrats rally at the Starkville Sportsplex, said Starkville is a progressive town that's "getting it right" on the economic development and quality of life fronts.
"I'm proud of Starkville," DuPree said. "I think it's vital that our college towns properly manage that town and gown relationship. It's vital to the state's economy that cities like Hattiesburg, Oxford and Starkville are doing well."
DuPree, who'll face Republican Phil Bryant in the November general election, said the development of Mississippi's towns must be driven by progressive thinkers who want to boost education and economic growth. Starkville can be a model for other towns, even without the support of a major university, DuPree said.
"Hopefully, every city will follow in those footsteps with helping small businesses getting started and Safe Routes to School," DuPree said. "We'll look at practices across the state for best schools, healthy living and all of that to help form a model for other towns. You've seen a lot of progress with the help of the Mississippi Municipal League, helping small business growth. And the administration will work with them through the Mississippi Development Authority."
DuPree, who also attended a fundraiser while in Starkville, spoke to roughly 35 people, most of whom asked questions about education.
Mississippi State professor Shirley Hanshaw bemoaned the state's lack of African-American teachers in public schools and the inconsistencies in discipline policies for students. Hanshaw asked DuPree what he'd do to address both problems, and while DuPree couldn't address both questions directly, he said the root of each problem is teacher pay.
"You've got to treat teachers like the professionals they are," DuPree said. "Teachers want a decent salary. Our teachers are $6,000 behind the southeast average. What I propose is, if you've got three years of being a teacher, you don't have to pay state income tax. It's a token, but it's a positive start."
DuPree plans to revamp the training teachers receive by requiring teachers to do three months of student teaching instead of one.
Starkville School District Assistant Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin asked DuPree about funding for early childhood education if Mississippi isn't awarded a $50 million Department of Education grant it applied to establish the program. Mississippi is the only state in the southeast that doesn't have a state-funded pre-kindergarten program.
DuPree was adamant that early childhood education be funded publicly.
"You see test scores improve and graduation rates rise when you have a program like that," DuPree said. "Right now, kids are not prepared for school. When we're elected, we're going to put people around the table to figure out how to raise money for that."
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