Meridian Star

Local News

March 13, 2014

House seeks talks with Senate on teacher pay plan

MERIDIAN — Staff and AP wire reports

    The House will seek to negotiate its differences with the Senate on their pay raise proposals for Mississippi public school teachers.

    The move comes after the House Wednesday rejected a Democratic attempt to agree to the Senate's pay raise proposal by a 71-50 vote.

    Democrats argued the House should accept the Senate plan because there's a chance the bill would fail if the House sought talks.

    "This legislation is in jeopardy," said House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. "I think the percentage game is to take the money that's on the table today. Don't risk it."

    But Republicans said the House should enter into negotiations in hopes of getting four years of across-the-board raises, a change from the previous plan.

    "We don't need to cut and run when we're on the high ground," said House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.

    Senators unanimously passed a plan that would give teachers an additional $1,500 this July 1 and another $1,000 a year later. Under the Senate plan's third year, teachers in schools that maintain an A or B from one year to the next would be eligible for merit pay, as would teachers in schools that move up a letter grade from year to year. Each school maintaining an A or moving up a letter grade would receive $100 per student, and each maintaining a B would receive $75 per student.

    House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said that the plan's third year is unconstitutional because it gives bonus payments not covered by contract to public employees for work they've already done.

    Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said any constitutional problem would be in the third year of the bill and lawmakers could fix it before then.

    "The Legislature meets every year," he said.

    “It is obvious that everyone in the Capitol supports a teacher pay raise,” Gunn said in a written statement. “We in the House have passed a bill that would provide each teacher a raise. The Senate has followed our lead and done the same. We commend the Senate for coming around to our way of thinking regarding a pay raise. That being said, we are unable to concur on the bill they sent us last week.”

    House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, D-Brandon, said the Senate plan was also flawed because it spends less money on raises than the House and would encourage good teachers to stay away from bad schools.

    Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, a Republican, did not immediately comment on claims that the Senate plan had constitutional hurdles.

    "I had hoped this week Gov. (Phil) Bryant could sign a significant teacher pay increase that included merit pay and was within our budget, but the House let political posturing win over increased teacher pay," he said in a statement.

    The House plan would provide $4,250 over four years. Teachers would receive $1,500 spread over the first two years. If state revenue continues to grow at least 3 percent a year, they would get a projected raise of $2,750 over the third and fourth years of the plan.

    Gunn states in the press release other objections the House had to the Senate plan include a lower starting salary for teachers, $34,390 versus $35,150; a smaller total raise, $2,500 versus $4,250; and money awarded to schools that receive "A" or "B" ratings, which would result in teachers at 343 schools in the state that would not receive raises.

    "The House Republican plan provides more money to more Mississippi teachers, and is a clear improvement over what the Senate sent over to us," House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden said. "The Senate merit play plan not only is unconstitutional as drafted, but would have excluded pay raises for teachers at seven Meridian public schools, five Lauderdale county schools, and two Quitman public schools. For me, that unfairness alone demonstrates the bill needs more work in conference committee."

    Snowden said local schools where teachers would not qualify for raises under the Senate plan include Clarkdale Middle School. Southeast Lauderdale Elementary, Northeast Lauderdale Elementary, Northeast Lauderdale High School, Southeast Lauderdale High School, Oakland Heights Elementary, Parkview Elementary, T.J. Harris Elementary, West Hills Elementary, Northwest Jr. High, George W. Carver Middle School, Crestwood Elementary, Quitman Junior High and Quitman Upper Elementary.

    Originally, the House said teachers with more than five years experience would have to meet three of 22 criteria to get the raises, ranging from earning certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to joining a civic club. But Wednesday, Gunn said the House was abandoning the so-called "benchmark" plan and seeking four years of across-the-board raises.

    Mississippi lawmakers last increased teachers' base pay during the 2007 election-year session, although teachers since have received built-in "step" increases based on their experience and academic degrees. Mississippi had the second-lowest average teacher pay in the nation in 2013 at $41,994, above only South Dakota, according to the National Education Association.

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