Meridian Star

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January 31, 2014

Senate sends teacher paycheck measure to governor

NEW ORLEANS — The Mississippi Senate voted 48-0 Friday for a bill meant to ensure teachers get a full August paycheck, though local school board representatives question its legality.

The measure now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration. Spokeswoman Nicole Webb wouldn't say whether he would sign it, but she said Bryant "certainly wants to be sure that teachers and school employees are paid fairly."

The bill directs school districts to pay all employees in equal monthly installments. It's meant to end problems created by an attorney general's opinion saying it violates the state constitution to pay employees for work not yet performed.

The Mississippi School Boards Association has said it believes a new state law can't overcome the constitutional hurdle, but Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said during debate he believes the law would be constitutional and solve the problem.

A 2012 law that takes effect this fall says schools can't start before the third Monday of August. In 2014, that means classes can't start before Aug. 18.

Typically, a teacher's yearly contract begins Aug. 1, and they get their pay in 12 equal monthly checks, even though they don't work during the summer. For a 187-day contract, that works out to 16 days of work each month. But with 10 days of school and maybe three days of preparation, a teacher likely won't have done 16 days of work in August 2014.

That would mean less than a full paycheck, although the remainder of the pay would be made up in following months.

School boards and superintendents opposed the law mandating the later start of the school year, which was pushed by Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism interests. Local school leaders have been using the paycheck problem to push lawmakers to reverse themselves.

Sen. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, tried to amend the bill Friday to repeal the school start date legislation, but fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves ruled that wasn't allowed under Senate rules.

"Let our local districts decide when school should start and when it should end," said Carmichael, a former principal.

He complained that his separate bill to repeal the law hasn't gotten a hearing in the Education Committee.

"At least bring before the committee, not just my bill but some others that would repeal the law," he said.

Supporters warned of the political consequences about voting against the bill.

"If you vote for this bill, you vote for teachers to get paid like they need to be paid," said Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula. "If you vote against it, you vote against the way teachers need to be paid."


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