Tuesday, January 17, 2017  SUBSCRIBE   
 
A day of service: Universities celebrate King's legacy through programs
The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University partnered with their communities to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. More than 1,000 community members gathered at The Mill at MSU to honor King and hear from Oktibbeha County Justice Court Judge Larnzy L. Carpenter Jr. on Monday morning before dispersing to do service projects in the community. Attendees also heard from MSU President Mark Keenum and Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, among others. Following the breakfast, students and other volunteers worked at the Palmer Home for Children, Habitat for Humanity Resale Store, Camp Seminole, Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge and Christian World Missions, among others.
 
'Our Voices' diversity conference upcoming this month at Mississippi State
With a theme of "Our Voices," Mississippi State's 2017 Diversity Conference will take place Jan. 26 and 27 at The Mill at MSU Conference Center in Starkville. Organized by the university President's Commission on the Status of Minorities, the event explores continuing avenues for embracing and expanding diversity in higher education. "We really wanted the focus of this year's conference to be aimed toward the higher education community and having meaningful dialogue on how to use our voices to champion diversity in higher education, as well as examining diversity in a broad scope," said Ra'Sheda Forbes, MSU's interim assistant vice president of multicultural affairs and director of the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center.
 
'Our Voices' diversity conference coming up at Mississippi State
"Our Voices," Mississippi State University's Diversity Conference, designed to explore continuing avenues for embracing and expanding diversity in higher education, will be Jan. 26 and 27 at The Mill at MSU Conference Center. Jeff Johnson, an award-winning investigative journalist, social activist, political commentator and author, will be keynote speaker at the event, organized by MSU's President's Commission on the Status of Minorities. His 11:30 a.m. presentation on Jan. 26 is titled "Our Voices: Who Will Lead the Next Social Movement?" The MSU conference is open to all. A complete schedule and other information is available at www.voices.msstate.edu.
 
Mississippi State among leaders in collegiate social media usage
Mississippi State holds a top social media presence among U.S. higher education institutions. The university is ranked 11th on Facebook and 37th on Twitter, according to a report released late last month by Engagement Labs, a technology and data company. Mississippi State and University of Florida are the only Southeastern Conference members found among the Top 25 on Facebook. "Social media helps colleges and universities on multiple fronts, including the acquisition of new students, staying in touch with alumni and building communities," said CEO Bryan Segal. "There's not a huge barrier to (social media) entry, so it's all about tactics." For universities and colleges, social media "is important for where they were, are and need to be with the demographics they're trying to reach."
 
Furniture Academy should be embraced
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's Dennis Seid writes: "Gov. Phil Bryant admitted last week that several years ago, he didn't quite know the extent of the impact the furniture industry had in Northeast Mississippi. But after some visits to the area, he saw firsthand the role furniture makers have in the region and across the state. The governor isn't alone -- most Mississippians outside Northeast Mississippi don't know much about the furniture industry either. Bryant was in town last week to help announce the creation of the Furniture Academy, which seeks to provide new and old furniture employees some critical training. ...Bill Martin, the director of the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State University, said organizers sought the input of industry leaders in designing the program. ...According to the Franklin Furniture Institute, the average annual salary of a furniture worker is about $32,000."
 
Furniture Academy offers job training
Governor Phil Bryant announced the inception of the Furniture Academy last week to an excited crowd at the Tupelo Furniture Market. The key players in putting together the academy are H.M. Richards of Baldwyn; Homestretch of Nettleton; Kevin Charles Furniture of New Albany; Max Homes of Fulton and Iuka; Southern Motion of Pontotoc and Baldwyn; the Franklin Furniture Institute of Mississippi State University; Itawamba Community College; Northeast Mississippi Community College; the Community Development Foundation; and Three Rivers Planning and Development District. "Several months ago the Franklin Furniture Institute held a meeting to discuss the shortage of workers in the furniture industry. The need that was identified at the meeting was a pool of qualified applicants to be able to fill the needs of increased production requirements and be available for training up to higher skilled jobs by employees in other departments," said Bill Renick, WIOA Division Director at TRPDD.
 
Agriculture value is part of Mississippi's economy
The estimated $7.6 billion value of Mississippi agriculture increased by 1.8 percent in 2016, helping the industry retain its prominence in the state's overall economy. "Agriculture's reach in the state goes well beyond just the value of the goods produced," said Brian Williams, an agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "The ag industry helps support many of our small towns across the state, as producers purchase inputs at the local co-op, buy new vehicles at the local car dealer or hire a local accountant to help with taxes. When all the extra economic impact of agriculture is taken into account, the total economic impact of agriculture to the state of Mississippi is actually much more than the $7.6 billion worth of agricultural products that are produced."
 
NAS hosts MLK commemoration service; MSU-Meridian's Natasha Randle guest speaker
Naval Air Station Meridian paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at its annual service Friday. This year's theme is "Remember, Celebrate, Act". The guest speaker was Dr. Natasha Randle, a professor at MSU-Meridian. Randle spoke about how people can serve with their hearts, their hands and with their pockets. "We all can do something in ways big and small," said Dr. Randle. "Any time you spend any moments in a speech or a workshop or just talking to somebody, hope that you'll walk away and do something differently. Hopefully people will actually serve and find some way to contribute to society."
 
Gulf Coast Community Design Studio: Grant finalist aims to remember Coast civil rights movement
One of the 144 finalists in the Knight Cities Challenges is from Biloxi. The finalists, narrowed down from 4,500 ideas submitted, were revealed Tuesday. The winners will be announced in June and will share up to $5 million to implement their ideas. David Perkes said as he thought about what the Knight Foundations is looking for in the challenge -- what's special about your city and how can that engage the community -- he and others at the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio came up with an idea that made it into the finals. GCCDS is an outreach program of Mississippi State University and started in Biloxi right after Hurricane Katrina. Perkes said it has a staff of about 10 full-time architects, planners and landscape architects who work with students and collaborate on important community projects.
 
Industrial park legal challenge will delay project
A legal challenge against a recent zoning change, implemented by the Starkville Board of Aldermen, will delay the development of a 360-acre industrial park, Golden Triangle Development LINK Chief Executive Officer Joe Max Higgins confirmed Friday. A bill of exceptions against the Jan. 3 rezoning order was filed in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Friday by Laura B. White, Margaret Copeland, Mary S. Bell, Bettye Bell and LMK LLC. Until the legal dispute is settled, both Higgins and Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the city and county will "pump the brakes" on the development process, which includes issuing a combined $14 million in general obligation bonds for property acquisition, cultural resource mitigation efforts and infrastructure improvements.
 
Agricultural Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith works to protect cotton, grain sorghum
Mississippi and Lincoln County farmers are about to get a break. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, announced Friday that the United States Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of sulfoxaflor on grain sorghum and cotton in the state. More than 11,000 acres of grain sorghum were harvested in Mississippi last year, providing a profit of $4 million to the state, according to the 2016 Mississippi State University agriculture, forestry and natural resources publication. In 2016, Mississippi's cotton production was valued at $442 million, the publication said. With the approval of sulfoxaflor, approximately 824 cotton farms and 217 grain sorghum farms in the state will be affected. An economic profile for Lincoln County produced in 2015 by Mississippi State University said farmers -- grouped with the merchant wholesalers and non-durable goods sector -- ranked fifth among the top employment sectors in Lincoln County.
 
State of State speech taking place today
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will deliver his State of the State speech to a joint session of the Mississippi Legislature, starting at 5:30 p.m. today. The annual event will be carried live via television and radio by Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The State of the State normally is used by governors to advocate for their legislative agenda.
 
School funding formula unveiled
New Jersey-based EdBuild, hired by legislative leaders to make recommendations on revamping Mississippi's school funding formula, is proposing to spend an additional 20 percent to educate poor students. The additional money for poor students was one the many recommendations unveiled in a crowded committee room Monday at the state Capitol at a joint hearing of the House and Senate Education and Appropriations committees. Rebecca Sibilia, chief executive officer of EdBuild, provided a litany of recommendations on how to fund the schools, based on the complexity of the school's enrollment. For instance, schools would receive additional money for educating special needs students and students for whom English is a second language.
 
EdBuild report: School funding recommendations
The new school funding formula proposed by an education consultant would mean some struggling public schools in Mississippi could see more money, while certain affluent districts could see less. At a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education and Appropriations committees at the Capitol Monday, Rebecca Sibilia, the chief executive officer of EdBuild, was direct in suggesting the state's commitment of providing 73 percent of funds toward education may be too high. Sibilia's company was hired by legislative leaders to propose changes to the state's Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding formula. "We would encourage the Legislature to reconsider whether or not 73 percent is really the right level in what the state should be guaranteeing in the total amount of resources," she said.
 
Analysis: Tax cuts, economy weigh on Mississippi revenues
As Gov. Phil Bryant cut state budgets by $51 million last week, he and Republican lawmakers went through the ritual obligations of sorrow and dismay. So far this year, Bryant has cut more than $100 million out of a $6.4 billion budget. That's less than 2 percent. Revenues have actually grown slightly so far this year, if one-off receipts such as lawsuit settlements are included. But receipts are again running below estimates, there are still holes to be filled in the current 2017 budget year, and the state could be staring at even deeper cuts to start in 2018. Legislative budget writers, meeting with agency heads in hearings, are trying to gauge what the minimum amount of money is that will allow each agency to keep performing its functions. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said the mission would be a lot easier if state revenues were expanding.
 
Corporate tax collections main culprit in revenue decline
Corporate tax collections peaked in Mississippi in fiscal year 2015 at $714.1 million, just as overall tax collections peaked for the state during the same time period. But the following fiscal year, overall revenue collections from taxes, assessments and earnings on state investments were $34.3 million less than the prior year. It marked only the fourth time for revenue to drop year over year since at least 1970. The drop in corporate tax collections in fiscal year 2016 was even more precipitous. They dropped $117.8 million or 16.5 percent. Through December, six months into the 2017 fiscal year, revenue collections remain sluggish. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves looks at revenue collections differently.
 
Pay raises raise ire of lawmakers
Thousands of pay raises given by state agencies amid drastic budget cuts and revenue shortfalls have drawn the ire of some lawmakers as they ponder more cuts to the coming year's budget. "Many of the agencies on this list are the first to complain when budgets are reduced," said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. "It is disingenuous for these agency leaders to say they are underfunded when they make spending decisions that cost taxpayers more money." Others say agency directors should have autonomy with salaries and other spending -- providing their agencies are accomplishing their missions and being efficient. A report requested by lawmakers and making the rounds at the Capitol shows that 74 state agencies, for the first five months of this fiscal year, gave $12.4 million in raises to 3,396 employees. It shows that there were 142 raises of $10,000 a year or more.
 
Mississippi governor: Trooper shortage critical
About once a week, someone tells Department of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz the same story. "I drove all the way from the Coast to the Tennessee line and I didn't see a single trooper." Santa Cruz, in his measured way, tells the caller every time that it's probably because there are really only enough troopers on the highways right now to work the wrecks -- if even that. Mississippi is in a vulnerable spot, Santa Cruz and others say, because only 489 of the 650 positions allowed by state law are filled. Of those positions, 328 are assigned to the road. To compound problems, 149 troopers are eligible for retirement. "It's troubling. We're almost at the point of declaring a disaster because we're short on troopers," said Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday. "If we can't get more troopers on the road we're going to lose lives. People's very lives depend upon having more troopers on that road."
 
Bill would make judicial elections partisan
Last year, top Republican leaders -- including Gov. Phil Bryant -- threw their support behind a candidate for the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Republican Party endorsed some judicial candidates. Mississippi judicial elections are supposed to be nonpartisan, but partisan politics often factor in. Now, a bill has been filed in the House by Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, to make judicial elections partisan contests. Under House Bill 496, candidates for judicial offices would have to list party affiliation and run in party primaries. Snowden said he is trying to level the field for judicial candidates because they now run only in the general election in November. He said if there are more than two candidates and no one gets a clear majority of the votes, there will likely be a runoff.
 
Rep. David Baria says House Speaker Philip Gunn staying silent on BP money
Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, hosted a two-hour meeting with the residents of Hancock County on Saturday morning at the Bay St. Louis Library. Among the topics was the BP economic-damages money and where and when it will be spent. He said it may be a while before the money is spent on the Coast, if it is spent in South Mississippi at all. "(Gov. Phil Bryant) and (Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves) are saying that we don't have to spend the money right now and we can just kick the can down the road, but I think that's a terrible idea." Baria said he filed a bill two years ago to create an entity populated with members from the Coast to divert the settlement-disbursement process away from legislative appropriations. "This way, we could decide how to best spend the money," he said.
 
Strings attached: Can Jackson get road help from state?
When Tupelo wanted the option to increase its sales tax in the 1980s, the Mississippi Legislature gave it permission to put the matter to a vote -- no strings attached. But when Jackson decided to give its residents the same opportunity, the state forced the city to create a commission of local and state-appointed members to determine how the additional money would be spent. These kinds of efforts make Jackson leaders and constituents wary of the state's agenda when it comes to the capital city. Just last year, Republican leaders effectively killed the Capitol Complex Improvement District bill, which would have diverted over $20 million to Jackson for infrastructure improvements around state-owned property.
 
Rep. Chris Johnson: Seeking balance in busy life
Chris Johnson believes in balance. In all things. The second-year state representative and multi-business owner makes balance in his busy life a priority so he can do what he likes doing best -- helping people. Johnson, a Republican who represents the year-old District 87 in Forrest and Lamar counties, has a list of what roles come first in his life. "Husband, dad, myself, investor, legislator," he said. The self-deprecating Johnson, 38, has kept a low-profile since winning election in November 2015 and taking office the following January. "The first year (in the Legislature) people joke about (you) finding the bathroom," he said. "You can't go up there and be a gunslinger."
 
Biloxi officially names holiday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Seeing Biloxi on ABC News was not the way Eula Crowell wanted to start the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "That's not Biloxi because we're better than that," she told the Biloxi City Council at a special 10 a.m. meeting that Council President Dixie Newman said was called to "correct a mistake." Just 20 minutes before the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade was set to kick off, the Council voted 6-0 to change the name of the holiday in the city's Code of Ordinances from "Great Americans Day" to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Councilman David Fayard was absent from the last-minute meeting. Robert Deming III arrived from Los Angeles after the meeting had started and said, "I'm glad to be back in time to be part of this vote." Deming said he was at a social event in Los Angeles and when he told people he is from Biloxi, the uproar over a tweet by the City of Biloxi calling the holiday "Great Americans Day" was the topic of conversation.
 
Gov. Phil Bryant slams anti-HB 1523 claims as 'false, exaggerated'
Gov. Phil Bryant is shooting back at opponents of House Bill 1523, calling claims about what the law would do "exaggerated" and "false." In a new brief filed Friday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for Bryant sought to temper arguments that HB 1523 -- a "religious freedom" law that has been ensnared in legal battles since its passage last year -- would give Mississippians carte blanche to deny services to gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. "The individual accusations in the (Campaign for Southern Equality) plaintiffs' parade of horribles are too numerous and too far-fetched for us spend time refuting at the retail level," attorneys for the governor wrote in the brief.
 
States Can Offer a Lesson as GOP Proposes Deep Cut Taxes
President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans who have pledged to cut federal taxes to boost the economy might consider looking first at lessons learned in GOP-controlled states that adopted similar strategies, only to see growth falter and budget gaps widen. The situation is worrisome enough in Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana that lawmakers are now debating whether to reverse course and raise taxes. And political leaders in states that have seen expanded Republican control, such as Arkansas and Iowa, are signaling caution about any new tax-cut proposals. "It does not take a Ph.D. in economics to know that we can't say yes to every spending need, and we should also not say yes to every tax-cut idea," Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson warned late last year.
 
Mississippi Republicans head to inauguration
It was a tough ticket to come by, but Joe Nosef, Mississippi Republican Party chairman, scored one to the presidential inauguration. "It's an historic event," he said. "2016 was such an eventful year. It seemed only right to go." Nosef will be attending the inauguration Friday with many in the state's Republican Party, including Gov. Phil Bryant. Nosef plans to combine the trip with some stops at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting. Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, is a ticket-holder. He attended both Bush inaugurations, and he'll be in Washington, D.C., to see Trump take office. "I was a big supporter of President-elect Trump all the way through the process," Fillingane said. "It was a very competitive campaign with lots of ups and downs. "I'm really proud he won."
 
Meridian area residents tickled to attend Trump inauguration
For Chandler Mitts, whether or not to attend Donald Trump's Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Friday was a no-brainer. Mitts, the Clarke County Trump Chairperson, will travel to the inauguration with Pam Fortner, known as the inventor of the Hand Grenade cocktail in New Orleans. "I am going as an individual who was passionate about getting him elected but also about being there in prayer in celebration of his being sworn in as president," Mitts said. "We believe in praying for our country and our president. A country with faith is necessary." A small sampling of East Mississippi residents, including Mitts, are among the hundreds of thousands who have been planning to attend this week's activities in Washington.
 
Locals trek to D.C. for presidential swearing-in
A tumultuous campaign season finally ends Friday when Donald J. Trump takes the presidential oath of office, and several residents of Northeast Mississippi will be on hand to witness the moment. "I just thought it would be a great opportunity for my family, especially my children, to see democracy in progress," said Tupelo business-owner Vance Perkins. Perkins voted for Trump, but said he had planned to attend the inauguration regardless of the election's outcome. "The outcome did turn out to my liking, but even if Hillary Clinton had won we were going to go," Perkins said. The Washington, D.C., trip will be, in part, a delayed Christmas present for his three children, Perkins said.
 
Rep. Bennie Thompson won't attend Trump's inauguration
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson will join at least two dozen members of Congress who said they won't attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. "Mr. Trump's recent insensitive and foolish remarks about civil rights hero John Lewis were far beneath the dignity of the Office of the President," said Cory Horton, legislative director for Thompson. "Additionally, Congressman Thompson continues to have concerns about the role that Russia had in our country's democratic process." Thompson and other lawmakers, mostly Democrats, but also some Republicans, have taken issue with Trump's response to comments by civil rights legend Lewis, D-Georgia. On "Meet the Press" Saturday, Lewis called Trump's presidency illegitimate because of Russia's alleged role in trying to help him win. Lewis also said he won't attend Trump's swearing-in. Trump slammed Lewis on Twitter.
 
Trump vows 'insurance for everybody' in Obamacare replacement plan
President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama's signature health-care law with the goal of "insurance for everybody," while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid. Trump declined to reveal specifics in the telephone interview late Saturday with The Washington Post, but any proposals from the incoming president would almost certainly dominate the Republican effort to overhaul federal health policy as he prepares to work with his party's congressional majorities. Trump's plan is likely to face questions from the right.
 
Obama's Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books
Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped -- in his life, convictions and outlook on the world -- by reading and writing as Barack Obama. Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life -- from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when "these worlds that were portable" provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important. During his eight years in the White House -- in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions -- books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
 
Obamas, out. Trumps, in: Flipping the White House is a 5-hour sprint
When Donald Trump walks into the White House for the first time as president on Jan. 20, his suits will be hanging in his closet, his personal photos will be displayed on perfectly placed tables, and his toothbrush will be near his favorite brand of toothpaste in his bathroom. "The entire house has to be just the way the incoming family wants it," former White House chief usher Stephen Rochon said. And nothing can be touched until the Obamas pull out of the White House driveway for the inauguration ceremony that same day. "It's more like less than five hours," Rochon said. The retired rear admiral oversaw the Executive Mansion from 2007-2011, including the transition between President George W. Bush and President Obama in January 2009. By "action," Rochon means an all-hands-on-deck execution of an intricately planned and timed move that would put HGTV flip shows to shame.
 
More diversity in congressional offices pushed
The Urban League, along other civil rights groups and current and former staffers are calling on Senate leaders to step up efforts to address the lack of diversity among top staffers and make it a priority in the new Congress. Just this month, groups have sent letters to Senate leaders, hosted a panel on the issue and met with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. "There's seems to be more synergy this time around," said Cory Horton, legislative director for Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi. Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, has also pushed for more diversity in federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the Secret Service, Intelligence agencies and the Coast Guard.
 
UM Winter Institute key in Day of Racial Healing on Tuesday
The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi is collaborating with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and more than 130 organizations for a National Day of Racial Healing on Tuesday. The observance is an effort to heal wounds created by racial, ethnic and religious bias and build an equitable and just society where all children can thrive. "We have to be truthful when looking at ourselves as individuals and as a nation," said Portia Espy, the Winter Institute's director of community building. "Although we've made positive strides in the area of race relations, there is still a deep divide in this country, one that if we're not careful will become even deeper; undoing the good work that has been done."
 
SAE fraternity at Southern Miss barred from holding social events
University of Southern Mississippi officials have taken disciplinary action against Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in connection with a homecoming party held at the fraternity house. "The Dean of Students Office has completed its review of issues under the Code of Student Conduct, which resulted in disciplinary action against individual students and the fraternity as a whole," said Jim Coll, the university's chief communication officer in a written statement. The approximately 30 members of the Mississippi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were involved in an Oct. 29 party at the frat house that resulted in a University Police Department investigation and allegations of violations of the university's Alcohol and Drug Policy and acts of vandalism.
 
USM's Mississippi Polymer Institute names new director
Monica Tisack-Kathmann has been named director of the Mississippi Polymer Institute, the industrial outreach service of the University of Southern Mississippi's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials. The Mississippi Polymer Institute leverages resources within the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials in order to assist high-tech polymer and polymer-related industries. From electron microscopes and thermal analysis to tensile strength testing, the institute offers access to a wide range of scientific equipment and the expertise to support both existing polymer-related industries and entrepreneurs. Tisack-Kathmann is no stranger to working with big name manufacturers.
 
Jackson State program can lead to 3 percent salary hike
Seven state-agency employees who completed Jackson State University's Institute of Government's Public Management and Leadership Certificate Program now qualify for a 3 percent salary increase. That's based on a recent Mississippi Personnel Board decision designating JSU's 16-week skills-building course as an "educational benchmark," according to a university news release. Otha Burton, JSU's executive director of IOG, said the program involves 45 contact hours of development with instructors from various sectors of government assisting employees in doing their jobs more effectively.
 
Pearl River Community College set to launch unmanned aerial systems program
Pearl River Community College has received a $215,250 Career and Technical Education Challenge Grant through the Mississippi Community College Board to implement an unmanned aerial systems program. "This is the start-up capital to get this up and going," Scott Alsobrooks, PRCC's vice president for workforce and economic development, said in a news release. "Our goal is to start classes in August." PRCC and Tyonek Services Overhaul Facility at Stennis International Airport in Kiln are working together to start the program. Tyonek is a Native American firm based in Alaska that specializes in unmanned aerial systems or drones at its Kiln facility.
 
Educators, business leaders seek to close skills gap
Educators have fixed their eyes on career and technical education in recent years, but changing the way schools prepare students for the workforce isn't without its challenges. Joe Lowder, dean of economic and community services at Itawamba Community College's Belden Center, spoke to members of Tupelo's Community Development Foundation and others about workforce education and development at Friday's Wake Up! Tupelo. According to Lowder, there are more than 38,000 jobs currently available in Mississippi, but no people with the skills to fill them. Thanks to the skills gap, or disparity between skills employers need and skills job-seekers have, employers can't find the employees they need and people can't find jobs.
 
Auburn University performing arts center slated to open in summer 2019
Design work is well underway for Auburn University's new performing arts center on South College, with the new facility expected to open in summer 2019. Representatives from the university last week presented preliminary plans for the center to the Auburn City Council, giving an overview of the design of the building and the reach of its impact on the local arts community. The center, which will be across the street from the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, will include a 1,200-seat performance hall intended for various community and university uses, said Leah O'Gwynn, director of development for special projects at Auburn University.
 
Lawmakers criticize outsourcing plan in letter to U. of Tennessee
In a two-page letter to the University of Tennessee's president, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers offered sharp criticism for Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to outsource some work on college campuses. The letter, sent to UT system president Joe DiPietro on Friday, said "serious concerns and questions" remain about "state-wide outsourcing as a good business practice." The embattled plan has faced a steady stream of opposition since it came to light more than a year ago. Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, said his office alerted lawmakers that he planned to send the letter and asked anyone interested in adding their names to get back to him. Sixteen Republicans and three Democrats in the House and Senate agreed. Briggs said he did not want the letter to be viewed as critical of Haslam. Instead, he said, he was mainly concerned about protecting his constituents who work at UT.
 
SwampCon draws thousands of cosplayers to U. of Florida
It isn't every day that Gainesville residents get to see Batman walking around the J. Wayne Reitz Union. But when the sixth annual SwampCon arrived at the University of Florida's campus on Saturday morning, so did The Caped Crusader, along with thousands of other attendees who came dressed as Pikachus, Ghostbusters and Deadpools. SwampCon is a multi-genre fan convention designed to bring fans of anime, science fiction, tabletop gaming and video games together for a weekend-long celebration of their shared interests. Six years after it was first held, the convention continues to be run by UF students, and includes discussion panels, celebrity guest appearances, dances and other events.
 
UGA researchers receive $1.3M Moore Foundation grant to study global ocean microbiome
A $1.3 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will allow University of Georgia researchers to uncover answers about an important metabolic link that takes place in the Earth's oceans. Microorganisms in the largest microbial habitat on Earth, the ocean microbiome, function similarly to microorganisms in the human gut; they perform chemical transformations that keep the whole system healthy. The UGA team designed a research plan that tracks chemicals of interest into bacterial cells, requiring a combination of new technologies and recent innovations in conventional spectroscopy.
 
Experts offer questions they hope to see asked of Trump's education secretary pick
The record of Betsy DeVos as an activist and advocate on K-12 education has been picked over for more than a month. But relatively little is known about her position on a range of issues that vex higher education policy makers. Tuesday's confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will be the first time President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. secretary of education has had to answer questions publicly about her thinking on student loan debt, the role of for-profit colleges and accountability in higher education. Democrats on the committee plan to question DeVos about her long history of pursuing policy goals through dark money groups and political donations -- including to members of both parties, but mostly to Republicans. However, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a letter this week wrote that she was concerned about DeVos's "paper-thin record on higher education and student debt."
 
Gates Foundation open-access policy goes into effect, joining others
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now requires all its grant recipients to make their published, peer-reviewed work immediately available to the public, the latest development in a larger push to make research more accessible. The foundation rolled out the new policy in 2015, but allowed for a two-year transition period during which grant recipients could embargo their work for 12 months. That option went away on Jan. 1 -- from now on, anyone who receives some funding from the foundation must make their research and underlying data available, for example by publishing it in an open-access journal or depositing it in a public repository. Grant-making organizations -- both private and government entities -- have over the last decade and a half moved more toward embracing open access.
 
Road and bridge crisis causes great ponderation
Syndicated columnist Bill Crawford of Meridian writes: "Riding the rural highways of Mississippi, it's easy to see why so many citizens want taxes cut. Vistas of disrepair and deterioration overwhelm. Strapped folk in these areas see little benefit from state spending. To them, every precious dollar they send to state and local governments must seem to disappear down endless holes. They are beyond taxed enough already. Now, these highways they depend on for work, church, and groceries have begun to buckle and crack. Bad roads will worsen their plight unless and until money is spent to fix them. But there is not enough money for repairs, especially for poor, rural areas. And there won't be without more tax revenues. This infrastructure calamity has become a matter of great ponderation in Jackson."
 
Saa-lute to Gunn on campaign finance passage
The Clarion-Ledger's Geoff Pender writes: "True to his word, House Speaker Philip Gunn last week shepherded --- or cat-herded --- a campaign finance reform bill through the House, which had dismissed with great prejudice a similar measure passed by the Senate last year. Saaa-lute: This did not appear to be an easy task. Gunn deserves kudos. The bill's passage appeared to be on the force of his will (and probably a little concern for public perception). Gunn's own Republican leadership team -- with plenty of help from Democrats in rare bipartisanship -- helped kill last year's measure in the 11th hour of the session on an un-recorded voice vote. Last week, the only Gunn lieutenant to say anything nice about his bill was Rep. Jason White, R-West, who handled it on the floor for Gunn."
 
To compete, Mississippi must move past analog governing in digital world
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: "As noted in prior writings, I've watched the evolution of the digital divide in Mississippi from several unique vantage points. Even the term 'digital divide' has evolved in my lifetime. Earlier in the 20th century, that 'divide' was defined by those who had access to telephones and those who didn't. The obstacles to the technology included poverty, the lack of rural infrastructure, and other factors. ...There's a new digital world out there -- one dominated by choices, access, and technology that seems to be expanding and improving by the month. The bottom line is that government has to keep pace with changing technologies or the people they serve are left behind. That's true at every level of government -- federal, state, and local."


SPORTS
 
Hey, nineteen: No. 4 Bulldogs lead all the way for record win
Mississippi State has made history in each of the past three seasons under Vic Schaefer. The fourth-ranked Bulldogs latest accomplishment is a program-best 19-0 start to the season. MSU reached that feat Monday night in a 73-62 win over Ole Miss in front of 8,840 fans, the second-largest crowd in school history. "I'm going to celebrate my kids and how hard they played," Schaefer said. "We forced 22 turnovers -- 11 each half -- and I thought we pretty much controlled the game in a great environment. What a great environment for these young ladies to participate in. It's not like that in most places, but it's the norm at Mississippi State." The Bulldogs led from start to finish and improved to 5-0 in conference play, also a school record.
 
Mississippi State keeps setting records with 73-62 win over Ole Miss
Mississippi State began the season with the highest expectations in the program's history. The Bulldogs returned five starters off the squad that advanced to the Sweet 16, had a preseason All-American in Victoria Vivians and a lockdown defender in senior Dominique Dillingham. Through 19 games, No. 4 Mississippi State embodied the preseason chatter with a perfect record after a 73-62 win against Ole Miss on Monday. The 19 straight wins to begin the season established a new high in school history surpassing the mark set by this group as freshmen and sophomores two years ago. "Well, they have certainly lived up to it," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "This is three years in a row that we've set a record with wins."
 
No. 4 Mississippi State beats Mississippi 73-62
Mississippi was fighting with its all its might during the third quarter on Monday night, sprinting around the court and diving for loose balls, all in an effort to pull within striking distance of No. 4 Mississippi State. That's about the time Mississippi State's Victoria Vivians caught a pass, squared up from 22 feet and let a 3-pointer fly. Swish. Fifteen seconds later after a scrum for a rebound, she emerged and sprinted down the court for an easy layup. Just like that, Mississippi State was well on its way to a 73-62 win over rival Ole Miss at Humphrey Coliseum. It was the Bulldogs' 19th straight win to start the season, which is a school record. The Bulldogs travel to face Alabama on Thursday.
 
Large crowd packs coliseum for Mississippi State win against Texas A&M
Ben Howland embraced Lamar Peters as the two walked off the Humphrey Coliseum court Saturday afternoon. The Mississippi State men's basketball coach wanted his freshman point guard to know how proud he was of him, especially after what Peters dealt with the last few days. Peters' father, Walter Sterling, passed away at 44 Wednesday night. Peters put aside his emotions and scored 14 points as MSU beat Texas A&M 67-59 for a third-straight Southeastern Conference victory. After back-to-back road wins at LSU and Arkansas, Howland tweeted, "Hope to see you Saturday in THE HUMP!!" The fans listened. MSU announced an attendance of 8,588 -- a season-high -- as MSU won it's first SEC home game of the season. "What a great environment, what a phenomenal crowd," Howland said.
 
Mississippi State focused on keeping Kentucky quiet on boards
No. 5 Kentucky carries a few daunting numbers into Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night. The Wildcats have won five straight to start SEC play. Individually, they have the league's leading scorer in Malik Monk. As a team, they rank fifth in the country with a 15-2 record. Kenpom.com ranks Kentucky as the top team in college basketball. Ben Howland agrees. "I think that they're one of the top two or three teams in the country," Howland said. "They're going to have a chance to win the national championship. This is a great opportunity to play the best team we'll face all season." But another number concerns Howland even more against Kentucky (6 p.m., ESPN). The Wildcats (5-0 SEC) own the 16th-best offensive rebound percentage in the country.
 
Mississippi State's Ben Howland talks Wildcats
Mississippi State's Ben Howland joined the rest of the league's coaches on the SEC men's basketball teleconference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs' game against No. 5 Kentucky on Tuesday. Here is a transcript of Howland's time on the call.
 
Kentucky faces 'two of the better teams in our league' this week
Kentucky's two opponents this week -- Mississippi State and South Carolina -- will challenge UK, Coach John Calipari said Monday. "We're going to be playing two of the better teams in our league," Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference. Kentucky plays at Mississippi State on Tuesday in what shapes up as a battle of freshman-dependent teams. Stats maven Ken Pomeroy rates Mississippi State as the second-youngest team in the nation. He has UK as the fifth-youngest. State, 12-4 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, starts three freshmen. Two more first-year players come off the bench. State has "a young team like we do," Calipari said, "but they fight and defend. They create good shots. ...It's going to be a rough one."
 
Mississippi State's Quinndary Weatherspoon named SEC Player of Week
The Southeastern Conference's Players of the week will meet in Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday. The league announced Mississippi State's Quinndary Weatherspoon as the SEC Player of the Week and Kentucky's Malik Monk as the freshman of the week. The two players will meet on the court in Starkville at 6 p.m. Weatherspoon led MSU to its first 3-1 start in conference play since 2010 as the Bulldogs own a three-game winning streak heading into a matchup with the Wildcats.
 
NCAA Hall of Champions showing documentary on Loyola v. Miss. State in 1963: What it means in 2017
The "Game of Change" played between the Mississippi State University and Loyola basketball teams on March 15, 1963, showed that the spirit of reconciliation was there, and that sports, at least at that time, was a way to make it happen. The NCAA Hall of Champions, located at White River State Park, in Indianapolis, is showing the film "Game of Change" as part of its Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, activities Monday. Admission to the park and the film will cost you a canned good. "That particular documentary really tells the story of how sports has kind of transcended some of these racial divides," said Kelly Dodds, assistant director of the Hall. "We think that story is relevant today-to see our student athletes and how, all they wanted to do was just play basketball in 1963. They didn't care that the other team was integrated. I think it tells an important story of how sports can bring people together," said Dodds.
 
Alabama appoints Greg Byrne as its new athletic director
Less than 24 hours after Bill Battle announced his retirement as Alabama's athletic director, his successor has been appointed. Greg Byrne will take the post effective March 1, the university announced Monday. Since 2010, Byrne, 45, has been the vice president of athletics at Arizona. Before he was hired for that position, he oversaw Mississippi State's sports programs. "We knew Bill was considering a change, and we wanted to hire someone who can assume that mantle of leadership and continue the tradition of success that Bill and so many others before him have established," said Stuart R. Bell, the university's president. "We believe Greg Byrne is uniquely qualified for this role, and we are pleased to announce he has accepted the position of athletic director here at The University of Alabama."
 
Alabama chooses Greg Byrne as next athletic director
Greg Byrne, the vice president for athletics at the University of Arizona, has been chosen to succeed Bill Battle as the University of Alabama's athletic director, according to a news release Monday from UA. His appointment is effective March 1, pending the approval of the UA System board of trustees. Byrne, 45, will be introduced at a news conference later this week, according to the news release. "Regina and I are honored to be joining the University of Alabama," Byrne said in the news release. "I have incredible respect and admiration for both coach Battle and coach (Mal) Moore (who preceded Battle as athletic director), as well as all of the talented coaches and staff in place. We look forward to returning to the SEC and being a part of Alabama's outstanding tradition." Byrne served as athletic director at Mississippi State University from 2008 to 2010.
 
New Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport a cheerleader for athletics
Beverly Davenport has been inside Allen Fieldhouse to watch the Kansas men's basketball team entertain a sellout crowd. She's been to The Big House with more than 100,000 fans screaming for the Michigan football team. She's attended Kentucky basketball games at Rupp Arena with Big Blue Nation filling it to the rafters. Those experiences have helped prepare Davenport for what she will encounter once she arrives at the University of Tennessee next month to assume her role as the first female chancellor in UT history and the only woman to lead a school in the SEC. Davenport, 62, who has been serving as the interim president at the University of Cincinnati, will begin working at UT on Feb. 15. One of her first orders of business is leading the search for a new athletic director to replace a retiring Dave Hart.
 
U. of Kentucky cheerleading wins 22nd national title
Kentucky cheerleading won its 22nd national championship and second in a row Sunday night at the national cheerleading finals in Orlando, Fla. And UK's dance team notched its best ever finish in its competition. Kentucky scored a 97.8 out of a possible 100 points to win the co-ed Division IA of the Universal Cheerleaders Association College Nationals, edging fellow perennial power Alabama. Kentucky has won the competition 22 out of its 33 years of competing and earned its first back-to-back titles since winning three in a row in 2008-10. "I couldn't be happier," Coach Jomo Thompson said in a UK press release.
 
South Carolina fishing team wins college national championship
South Carolina claimed a national championship Saturday when the duo of Anderson's Hampton Anderson and Irmo's Chris Blanchette claimed a FLW College Fishing title on Lake Keowee in the Upstate. It gave the school back-to-back championships, becoming the second ever to do it after Florida in 2009 and 2010. The pair posted a three-day total of 15 bass weighing 38 pounds, 15 ounces. They claimed a $30,000 prize package that included a Ranger Z175 boat and one entry into the 2016 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing, which will go to Anderson after winning a fish-off Sunday. The team from Colorado Mesa came in second, Auburn third and Henderson State fourth.
 
Longtime director of football operations likely out at U. of South Carolina
One familiar face is returning to South Carolina's football team, and another is one the way out. Senior linebacker Skai Moore confirmed that he will return to the team for the 2017 season. Meanwhile, longtime director of football operations Jamie Speronis is expected to leave the program soon, a source told The State. Speronis' pending exit won't make an impact on the field, but is the end of an era at South Carolina. Speronis was Steve Spurrier's longtime aide and director of football operations, working for Spurrier at Florida, with the Washington Redskins and then at South Carolina for 12 seasons. Speronis organized and oversaw South Carolina's football travel, coordinated the team's walk-on program and served as a liason to NFL personnel and the school's compliance office.
 
Texas A&M athletics public address announcer resigns
Texas A&M football and men's basketball public address announcer Chace Murphy has resigned from his duties, according to a Facebook post on Murphy's profile. "After much prayerful consideration, I have resigned as public address announcer for Texas A&M Athletics," the private post read." At Wednesday night's A&M men's basketball game, Murphy was replaced early by Mike Fitch, who has performed public address duties for other A&M athletic events. Murphy tweeted during the game that he suffered a migraine and went to the emergency room. "We spoke with Chace Murphy and accepted his resignation as the public address announcer at Aggie men's basketball and football games," Associate Athletics Director for Game Operations Mike Caruso said. "We thanked him for his service and wished him well."



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