By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, a Democratic candidate for governor, said “a restructuring” is needed in Mississippi’s education system for the state to progress.
“We have to look at ways to keep our children in school. We have to restructure,” the 57-year-old candidate said Tuesday in a 60-minute interview with the Daily Journal editorial board.
DuPree proposed developing a commission to look for methods to further motivate gifted students and to enhance vocational offerings and proposed creating graduating coaches to work with students to ensure they complete high school.
He also proposed increasing school compulsory attendance age from 17 to 18.
“If a 16- or -17-year-old is not in school, he is probably doing something that is not positive,” he said.
DuPree said he has proven as Hattiesburg’s first black mayor he can get diverse groups to work together to solve problems. He said he can do that on the state level, and can stretch current state revenues to solve Mississippi’s problems.
He said he has been able to do that in Hattiesburg by not working day-to-day, but by planning for the long term. He said if the budget was mapped out over an extended period of time, “we can find the money” to tackle those issues.
For instance, he said a $62 million surplus could be used to exempt Mississippi’s 30,000 teachers from having to pay income tax.
“If teachers are important, why don’t we treat them like they are?” he asked.
DuPree stopped short of calling for incorporating an early childhood education system into the state’s existing public school system. Instead, he called for programs to “incentivize” existing private day care centers to develop the personnel to teach a curriculum developed by the state.
DuPree said day care centers are small businesses that must be nourished to develop more jobs for Mississippians. As part of that program, DuPree said efforts must be made to close loopholes that prevent 113 of the state’s 150 largest companies from paying any corporate income taxes.
As mayor, he said he has not raised taxes and would not as governor. But he said the large, out-of-state companies that have found the loopholes have an advantage over smaller Mississippi-based companies that are paying income taxes.
“I am talking about fairness…. I am talking about responsibility,” he said.
‘I have done it all’
DuPree touted his experience, which includes working as a sales manager for Sears, starting his own real estate company, serving on the Hattiesburg school board and being elected three terms as a Forrest County supervisor and three terms as mayor. As mayor, he said the city has fewer employees than when he was elected, but more services are being provided, including providing services to a large area that was annexed during his tenure.
“Nobody has the background I have,” said DuPree, who praised all of the gubernatorial candidates “as great guys.” But, he added, “I have worked in every form of government. I have worked every job from the slaughterhouse to selling newspapers… I have done it all.
“I think we have been successful. I think we have been attentive to people. I think we have tried to do what people wanted us to do.”
The Democratic primary is Aug. 2. DuPree’s opponents are Clarksdale lawyer-businessman Bill Luckett, retired county officeholder Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville and Meridian teacher William Compton. The winner of the primary advances to the November general election.