Bounds, Ward voice support for pay raises
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:00 AM
Local legislators are among others supporting pay raises for teachers and other state employees but both have concerns about the financial and long term feasibility.
Last week members of the Mississippi Association of Educators, the state's largest teacher union, rallied at the Capitol for an across-the-board pay raise for the state's 22,000 public school teachers.
The call for raises was backed by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton.
Local legislators also voiced support for the raises as well as how they would be funded.
Republican District 44 Rep. C. Scott Bounds of Philadelphia said he supported across-the-board raises for not only public school teachers but all state employees.
"We're early in the process [of deliberation]," he said, "and we're not even sure on an amount yet."
Bounds is not alone.
Republican District 18 Sen. Giles Ward of Louisville also voiced support for the raises.
"There is no question there needs to be adequate and generous compensation to not only teachers but also state workers," he said. "We need to carefully evaluate resources and necessities for all those that chose to make the state a better place."
Bounds estimated that teachers haven't had a pay raise since at least 2007 or 2008.
Mississippi teachers made on average $41,646 in 2011-2012, the second-lowest average salary nationwide, according to a study by the National Education Association, which includes MAE. Mississippi's average pay actually fell from $41,975 the year earlier. Causes for that decrease could have included departures of higher-paid teachers or cuts to local money used to supplement state aid.
Teachers get step raises of $495 each year under the state salary schedule, and make more money with advanced degrees. Teachers with 35 years of experience and a doctorate make at least $64,870.
Despite this, Bounds is worried that the state cannot afford raises.
"It's a recurring expenditure that has to be paid each year," he said. "We've got to be prudent about this."
Officials estimated last year it would cost $35 million to give $1,000 raises to teachers, administrators, counselors and others.
Another solution to the problem has been presented in the form of merit-based pay increases.
Gov. Phil Bryant has advocated this method, with a goal of expanding it to 70 of the state's 151 school districts by 2018
"While merit pay and an across-the-board raise are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the state must weigh the costs and benefits of providing an across-the-board raise versus providing incentive pay to teachers who prove the ability to move their students forward," Bryant said in a statement.
In light of the governors support not everyone wants raise to be merit-based.
"Merit raises could penalize good teachers," Bounds said. "A lot of factors affect a class. Everything would have to be known before I would support it."
While a number of Mississippi schools are experimenting with merit pay, those examining effective ways to pay for performance say they need more time for study. That makes it unlikely that lawmakers could create a merit pay program in the 2015 budget and be certain it would work.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican like Bryant and Gunn, said he doesn't want to consider pay increases unless lawmakers agree more money is available.
"I remain committed to stop the state from spending one-time money on recurring operating expenses," Reeves said in a statement.
Some legislative leaders also hope to narrow the projected $265 million funding gap for schools in the 2015 budget.
Ward noted that even with better revenues he would advocate "careful deliberation" when discussing the issue.
"We need to carefully watch our revenues and make an educated decision," he said, noting that it is was still early in the 2014 session. "We've had no debate in the issue and I want to learn as much possible before we get too deep in these weeds."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.