After lots of back and forth negotiating in the state House of Representatives and Senate, an agreement was reached to give Mississippi school teachers and teacher assistants a $1,500 annual pay raise. There was some angst statewide among teachers that the raise was not enough but also relief that at least some increase was secure, when Governor Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2770 on April 16.
Then on Wednesday afternoon, April 24, information from the Mississippi Department of Education began to circulate that a mistake with the teacher pay raise bill had been made. The gist of the information was that data had been provided to legislators that was inaccurate, meaning that insufficient funding had been allocated for the pay hikes for the teachers and the assistants.
A press release from the MDE stated: “The MDE calculated the number of positions based on the code in the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) that referenced MAEP-only funded teachers and teacher assistants. Upon further review, it was determined there were additional teachers who were eligible for the raise who were not coded in MSIS as MAEP-funded positions.
The MDE appreciates districts bringing this issue to our attention, and we will work swiftly with each district to verify the number of MAEP-funded teachers and teacher assistants. We will provide this information to lawmakers and work with them to obtain the additional funding for the pay raise.”
Early tabulations projected that the miscalculation was a $10+ million mistake, a large deficit that school districts across the state – including the Laurel School District and the Jones County School District – certainly don’t want to cover themselves.
The Laurel School District has 39 non-MAEP funded teachers and 24 non-MAEP funded assistants. The total financial impact to the LSD in the scenario that a state funding source is not identified for the pay raises would be approximately $94,500.00.
“We appreciate the Mississippi Department of Education’s commitment to ensuring that all teachers and assistants receive this much deserved pay increase,” said Laurel School District Superintendent Dr. Toy L. Watts. “Our teachers and teacher assistants work diligently each day to provide the students of Laurel with a quality education, and we appreciate their dedication to academics and the well-being of our students.”
Jones County School District Superintendent Tommy Parker noted that his school district, which has over 650 teachers, also has a number of teachers not covered by MAEP. The JCSD is still reviewing their files to identify mistakes to submit to MDE, but their initial estimate is that 100 teachers and as many as 30 assistants are non-MAEP funded, meaning the district would be short nearly $200,000 for the pay increases.
“I can tell you that Career and Technical teachers are not included as well as Special Education teachers and those funded through the Title programs,” explained Parker. “We have several teacher assistant and tutoring positions that are not MAEP positions. We get only $30,000 per year (a grant) from the state to pay for our five Dyslexia teachers and no state funds to pay for our teachers and assistants that work with the 700-plus students that are designated as English language learners. We receive no state funds for our six K4 programs. When you add in the district’s part of the fringe benefits for the raises and the raises for those not under MAEP, I fear that there will be a rather large amount the district has to come up with to provide everyone with the raise.”
District 89 State Representative Donnie Scoggin is convinced that lawmakers will come up with the money from somewhere to fund the shortfall.
“My understanding as of now is that they will look at some funding sources to support the teacher pay raises, most likely the Rainy Day fund,” said Scoggin. “Now that’s not official by any means.”