2 percent of Miss. teacher contracts not renewed

Published 2:21 pm Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mississippi schools cut 2 percent of the jobs for certified teachers this academic year because of tight budgets, state Department of Education officials told lawmakers Tuesday.

That’s a loss of about 705 jobs among the roughly 33,000 teaching positions.

State Board of Education member Claude Hartley told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that reducing the number of teachers can mean increasing the number of students in many classrooms.

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“We cannot continue to increase class size and continue the improvements that we made this past year,” Hartley said.

Officials said not every district cut 2 percent of teaching jobs. Some cut more and some cut fewer.

Several Mississippi school districts improved their accountability rankings during the 2009-10 academic year, according to data released this month. Fifty-one percent were in the top three levels of rankings. That was up from 40 percent in 2008-09.

Because of the sputtering economy and weak revenues, legislators struggled to write a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Some of the schools’ funding depended on the state receiving federal stimulus money, but the federal money was approved after many school districts had already offered employment contracts for the current academic year.

Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham said he didn’t know how many of the teaching jobs might be filled now that federal money is available. He said districts were notified Friday about their share of the funding.

State Department of Education officials surveyed school districts to gather information about how many jobs were not filled. Officials said 150 of the 152 districts provided numbers. The only ones not responding were the agricultural high schools in Hinds and Coahoma counties.

Todd Ivey, the department’s finance director, said the 705 job losses were for certified teachers whose contracts were not renewed.

He said other jobs were left unfilled this year as well: 164 positions for administrators, counselors and librarians; 792 for teacher assistants; and 401 for noncertified workers such as custodians. Ivey said he didn’t have information readily available about the percentage of jobs cut in each of those categories.

The Department of Education has not yet gathered information about the number of teaching jobs that remain unfilled after someone retired. Lawmakers asked for those numbers.

“I would like to know how many teachers are absent from the school system,” said Rep. Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian.

Education officials appeared before the Budget Committee to request money for fiscal 2012, which begins next July 1. The request is for a $285.4 million increase, or 12 percent more than in the current year.

Burnham said most of the requested increase is to make up for the current shortfalls in two areas. One is in a state subsidy that helps reduce local property taxes for schools. The other is in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — the complex funding formula designed to give each school district enough money, per pupil, to reach midlevel academic standards.

Betty Petty attended the budget hearing in Jackson Tuesday as part of the Sunflower County Parents and Students Organization. She said schools in the economically struggling Delta need more state support.

“We need to be sure we receive justice funding rather than just adequate funding,” Petty said. “It seems like the schools that are falling behind should be a priority for funding.”