Karl Floyd

Former Secretary of State Dick Molpus of Philadelphia talks Monday with Tupelo Rotary Club member Mike Sadler .

HED: Molpus continuing fight for public education

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Mississippi must invest in the future of public education and communities must get involved if local school districts are to succeed, former Secretary of State Dick Molpus said in his first public speech since losing the governor’s race last fall.

Speaking to the Tupelo Rotary Club Monday, Molpus reiterated some of the themes of his gubernatorial campaign, including the need to aggressively address public education needs while the state enjoys a budget surplus brought about by casino gambling revenues.

“We’re gliding when we need to be soaring,” Molpus, 45, said of the state’s public education system. “The challenges are obvious and the solutions are equally obvious.”

The Philadelphia native pointed to Tupelo’s alternative school for problem students and Hattiesburg’s program to teach values and morals as prime examples of education needs being addressed but not on a statewide level. Molpus said the state’s current budget surplus should be used to implement some of those programs and improve public education statewide before the gambling boom goes bust.

“My fear is that we are not preparing for that slide on the backside,” he said of his belief that the current surge of gambling revenue would not last after becoming a major part of the state’s economy in the last few years.

“Without those 34,000 gambling jobs, we would have the highest unemployment rate in the America, about a half a percentage point higher than West Virginia,” Molpus said of the impact of the industry.

As the founder of Jackson-based Parents for Public Schools, Molpus said problems in public education such as have occurred in the Panola County school system could be avoided with more local involvement within the community. The near-bankrupt Panola County school system faces a state takeover.

“It comes back to us,” said Molpus, now a private citizen and president of the Molpus Co., a timber procurement and property management firm. “We set the standard. Either we accept the standard or we have the responsibility to lead and not accept that standard.”

He said the failure of public schools to live up to parents’ expectations was a factor in the growth of private schools and, even though private school enrollment is on the increase in the area, he praised the Tupelo community for its commitment to public education.

“There’s a feeling, unequivocally, that you should offer a strong public school system for everyone, educating factory workers’ children or doctors’ children,” he said.

Molpus prefaced his address on public education Monday by saying he did not intend to seek public office again.

“I felt like a did make a contribution,” he said of his three terms as secretary of state. “But I had forgotten how nice private life is. If I never held office again, my life would still be full.”

Molpus did, however, leave the door open for some future political race if “no other fighters step up.”

“That’s the only thing that would ever pull me out of the timber business,” he said.

The next elections for statewide offices are in 1999.

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