By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
With national elections behind the country, state leaders are looking to the future and making plans for the next round of legislative action.
Philip Gunn, speaker for the Mississippi House of Representatives, said education will likely be on the forefront again when the Mississippi Legislature meets in January. Gunn was in Meridian on Wednesday to meet with members of the Rotary Club.
Gunn is a proponent of charter schools in Mississippi and is hopeful the House and Senate can agree on legislation during the next session to offer parents and their children school choice, particularly in failing school districts.
"I think it's time for us in Mississippi to get our educational system on track. We have continued to lag behind for the last 40 years," Gunn said.
Charter schools could be the answer, he said.
"This is an idea where you create a school in a district that gives the opportunity for some children to go to where they are structured and disciplined."
Gunn also pledged fiscal responsibility in developing the state's budget, adding that the state has to wean itself from one-time money sources.
During a question and answer session, Gunn talked about problems with the Public Employees Retirement System, which has been under scrutiny of late because it is paying out more than it is bringing in.
"PERS cannot continue to be sustained in its current form," Gunn said. "I don't know what the solution is. A lot of people are looking at it but it cannot sustain itself in its present form."
The speaker also talked about the recent redistricting of the state's legislative districts.
There are 122 districts in the House of Representatives and each district has approximately 24,000 people.
"When you go through a 10 year period of time, people move, populations shift, people die. Those numbers change, so some districts get out of whack," Gunn said.
Mississippi saw an increase of 104,000 residents between the 2000 census and the 2010 census, Gunn said. About half of that was in DeSoto County, which borders Memphis, Tenn. Other large growth areas included Madison and Rankin counties and in the city of Hattiesburg, which is in both Forrest and Lamar counties.
On the other hand, population in the Mississippi Delta has declined by about 44,000 residents.
Gunn, of Clinton, represents District 56, which includes Hinds, Madison, Warren, and Yazoo counties. That district grew to about 30,000 people and had to be reduced to keep it around 24,000, he said.
Lauderdale County was also affected by redistricting, he said.
"We were able to draw a brand new district in Lauderdale County," Gunn said. "Because of the growth that you've had and population shifts, we have a new district here."
District 45 will now encompass a large portion of downtown Meridian, he said. It will also include all of Kemper County and parts of Neshoba and Winston counties.
"Congratulations to you," Gunn said. "You will have a brand new House seat."
There are only five new districts in the state, including the one in Lauderdale County, Gunn said.
The U.S. Department of Justice approved the redistricting plan earlier this year.