[City Buzz] no. 10 November 22 - 29 | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[City Buzz] no. 10 November 22 - 29

A Hasty Decision Reconsidered?

The Jackson City Council will vote this week on whether or not to rescind approval of the construction of a parkway running to the international airport in Pearl.

The council approved the Airport Parkway connecting the City of Jackson to the Jackson-Evers International Airport this month, but had second thoughts when developer John McGowan announced that the parkway interfered with his plans to flood the Pearl River beside downtown Jackson, which was reported first in the Northside Sun.

"We're just saying we didn't know that our (earlier) approval posed any kind of threat to LeFleur's Lakes," said Council President Ben Allen, adding that he had approved the resolution only because Mayor Frank Melton's Chief of Staff Marcus Ward had assured him that the two projects would not conflict.

Allen told The Clarion-Ledger that he is unsure of whether he's ready to lay down a vote either way at this week's meeting, saying he feared killing either the lakes plan or the parkway. He said he wanted to gather more information from defenders of both projects before voting.

Pro-development figures like Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Leland Speed say the lakes plan could bring millions of dollars of lakefront investment, while opponents argue the lake would leave nowhere for flood run-off to go in the event of a calamity similar to the 1979 flood of downtown Jackson.

Meanwhile, the Airport Parkway Commission has already invested millions of dollars buying land on which to build the parkway, and the U.S. Congress has already allocated $40 million to the road project.

More Schooling or Stay Poor

A report by the Southern Education Foundation reveals that Mississippi still has a long way to go in the realm of education, and said the state's high drop-out rate and low college attendance are hurting Mississippi's efforts to get a larger piece of the national economic pie.

"How can we prosper when 41 or 38 percent of high school students are dropping out? How can we be expected to prosper when only 13 out of 100 students graduate from college?" asked SEF President Lynn Walker Huntley at a Monday press conference.

The report, "Miles to Go," goes into detail about why the state ranks 49th in the nation in per capita income. SEF issued the report hoping to fuel policy changes, making public education a higher priority.

"The fact of the matter is, the world has changed," said SEF Program Director Steve Suitts. "Today, a high school graduate makes only 48 cents for every dollar that a college graduate makes. A high school drop-out makes only 29 cents."

Huntley and others called for the state to place new emphasis upon pre-kindergarten education, explaining that adequate early-age learning-skill development lowers the risk of learning deficits, which tend to kick in around 4th grade and persist into high school.

Caroline Shanks, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, which funded the report, pointed to initiatives like Gov. Haley Barbour's recent FY 2008 budget proposal to move funding from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula to pre-kindergarten programs as a promising example.

Shanks stopped short of endorsing Barbour's FY 2008 proposed budget plan—a plan opposed by MAEP supporters who claim taking the funding from MAEP will cause another year of shortages in K-12. MAEP pays for basics like teachers' salaries and learning materials.

"All we want to do is continue to support those programs that find new ways to help children," Shanks said. "I'm not here to argue the governor's plan."

Governor Gets Kudos

Gov. Haley Barbour got a nod as a 2006 Public Official of the Year and the nation's governor of the year. Governing magazine, out of Washington, D.C., gave Barbour the award after pulling the state through the billion-dollar devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The JFP heard Barbour's first announcement of the award at a Nov. 14 press conference announcing his FY 2008 budget proposal, which continues to underfund "Adequate" K-12 education in the state.

Barbour later released a statement saying it was "a great honor" to win the title and praised state employees and Mississippians in general for "hitching up" their britches and getting to work after the 2005 storm tore through the state.

"These people saved lives, stopped looters, cleared roads and so much more," he wrote in his statement.

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