October 15, 2013 9:52:12 AM
BILOXI -- The Mississippi Association of Educators is pushing for a blanket pay raise for the state's public school teachers, but Gov. Phil Bryant is holding firm in his opposition, saying he only wants to give pay raises based on merit.
Bryant reiterated his preference for raises based on test scores and teacher evaluations Monday, talking with reporters outside the Southern States Energy Board in Biloxi.
On Friday, Joyce Helmick, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said she believes lawmakers have enough money in 2014 to fully fund the state's K-12 education budget and give teachers a raise if they choose.
"We are going full throttle for an education pay raise this year," Helmick told a group of teachers attending a training session in Jackson.
Mississippi teachers made the second-lowest average salary in the nation in 2011-2012 at $41,646, according to a study by the National Education Association, which includes MAE. Mississippi's average pay actually fell from the year earlier, when it was $41,975. Causes for that decrease could have included retirements and departures of more senior, higher-paid teachers, or cuts to local district supplements.
Individual teachers get a step raise of $495 each year under the state minimum salary schedule. Teachers also make more money if they have master's, specialist or doctoral degrees. Teachers with 35 years of experience and a doctorate make at least $64,870, and many districts offer more money from local funds.
Helmick said she would like to see a multi-year increase that would raise starting salaries, now about $30,900, to $40,000. That would be like the multi-year program implemented in 2000 under Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. It raised salaries in Mississippi, but other states kept raising theirs as well, meaning teachers didn't make up much ground against neighbors and barely held even with inflation, according to NEA numbers.
"We need the brightest and the best to enter the field and we need to compensate them," Helmick said.
Even a modest pay raise could be expensive. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said officials estimated last year it would cost $35 million or more to give a flat $1,000 raise to each certified employee, a group including not only teachers but also administrators, counselors and others.
"I don't know if the funds are available just yet," Frierson said, noting the first revenue estimate for the 2015 budget year won't be released until November.
Some agencies, including Medicaid and the state's prison system, have told lawmakers they expect to run deficits in the current 2014 budget year, which means those bills will have to be paid before raises.
The Clarksdale, Rankin County, Lamar County and Gulfport school districts are piloting merit pay systems this year, using $1.5 million the Legislature set aside for that purpose. The state Department of Education has also been using federal grant money to give bonuses to teachers who meet improvement goals at some schools.
Any merit pay system would likely rely on the state's new teacher evaluation system, which uses test results for 50 percent of its score, combined with classroom observation for the rest.
Frierson, a retired teacher, said at least some across-the-board raises may be needed to raise starting salaries. "You've got to bring the bottom end up some," he said.
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