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The political pot boileth over

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
August 3,2003
The Mississippi Association of School Superintendents is putting the political pressure on legislative candidates this year by sending them a "Mississippi Schools First Pledge."
The pledge is that the candidate, once elected, will "support passage of the education appropriations during the first month of the 2004 regular session, and each session thereafter, with at least 62 percent of the general fund budget." Candidates were asked to sign the pledge and return it to the association by July 1 and advised that their response, or lack thereof, would be reported to the association's membership.
Lawmakers, succumbing to the bully pulpit of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, made this bed for themselves last year when they passed an education appropriations bill before anything else, an unusual in fact, first-time ever move. They wrestled with the rest of the state budget for the rest of the session.
Now, the 150-member state school superintendents association, which also says it represents 2,400 school administrators, wants lawmakers to "continue the tradition."
One year hardly a "tradition" makes and, in a time of austerity, lawmakers would be wise to steer clear of such a pledge. There is nothing magic about 62 percent of the general fund budget going to education. In better economic times, for example, 58 percent might even yield more dollars.
One legislative candidate has taken extreme offense that the superintendents would even embark on such a political pressure strategy.
His response, slightly edited for the purposes of this column, was "You lazy, parasitic, grafting, thieving … What … do you want, blood? Test scores and other information warrant the dismissal of a large percentage of you so-called superintendents.'"
If you believe that the road to academic achievement runs through the superintendent's office, and if you believe that far too many school superintendents have presided over failing systems, you will understand this candidate's response.
You will also understand the frustration felt by many private citizens and employers that too many students just aren't getting what they need in order to succeed in the workplace, much less life. That's one of the reasons for the constructive changes taking place in the Meridian school district.
The superintendents are excited that, "for the first time in history, Mississippi's schools were not competing for funding with other state agencies." I'm a huge supporter of public education and agree wholeheartedly that the cause of education in this state needs more money. But money is just a piece of the puzzle.
Accountability, curriculum, test scores, functional skills (such as reading, math and English), discipline in the classroom are all related in my view, and no single element of the state budget should have a blank check. Superintendents should be held responsible for the academic performance of the students in their charge.
If the cause of public education is as important and valuable as we believe it to be, it can compete successfully against other budgetary needs and that's the approach lawmakers should take when they convene in January.
A new contract
at NAS Meridian
From its origins as Beech Aerospace Services in 1976, the Madison-based company now known as Vertex has gone through a world of change. But its core business the provision of support services for military aircraft has remained constant.
Last week, Vertex (formerly known as Raytheon Aerospace) won what amounts to a $450 million contract to provide logistical support for about 200 of the U.S. Navy's newest training jets, the T-45, at Naval Air Station Meridian and NAS Kingsville, Texas.
And by winning the contract, Vertex beat out the giant of the aerospace world, Boeing.
Vertex president and CEO Dan Grafton called it a "landmark achievement for Vertex."
To ease any angst among current Boeing employees, many if not most of them working at NAS Meridian and Kingsville under the current contract will be hired by Vertex. This is fairly typical when a new company takes over such a speciality contract because of the high level of expertise involved in the work.
Grafton said Vertex will hire about 300 people at NAS Meridian and 400 at NAS Kingsville, the vast majority from the incumbent workforce. All employees will be required to go through the pre-employment and interview processes with Vertex.
Vertex will have responsibility for all aircraft maintenance, parts supply management, engineering services and total systems maintenance management of the T-45 fleet.