Legislators to consider elected boards, appointed superintendents

Published 10:01 am Thursday, January 9, 2014

There are many educational issues up for debate during this session of the state legislature. The bills addressing these issues could greatly affect the three school districts in the county.

One bill being put forth by Sen. Tony Smith pushes for school board members in all school districts to be elected and the appointment of a superintendent be determined by the school board.

Picayune and Poplarville school districts have appointed superintendents and elected school board members. However, in Picayune, only two members representing the area outside the city are elected and the other three appointed b y the Picayune City Council. Pearl River County School District holds elections to choose its superintendent and all school board members.

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Picayune School District Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell said he thinks all superintendents should be appointed because it wouldn’t limit the position to residents living within the district.

Pearl River County School District Superintendent Alan Lumpkin said he would agree with the legislation if it was proven that appointed superintendents performed better than elected superintendents, but the numbers don’t back up this opinion.

“Whether I’m elected or appointed I’m going to work to provide the best education for the Pearl River County school district,” Lumpkin said.

Another issue that both superintendents weighed in on was the topic of teacher pay raises.

Gov. Phil Bryant has said that pay raises for teachers should be based on merit,, while other lawmakers have argued that a pay raise needs to be made across the board.

Lumpkin and Harrell both agree that teacher pay raises are long overdue.

Teachers have not received any type of pay raise in seven years.

“I don’t think they need to go to merit based pay raises before they address base pay raises,” Lumpkin said. “Our teachers have been underpaid for many years and they need to make that right first.”

Harrell said if the legislature does pass a bill raising teachers’ salaries, there needs to be an increase in the budget to pay for those raises.

Finalizing the 2015 fiscal year budget amount for the Department of Education also will be debated during this legislative session.

Lawmakers are pushing a budget of $2.13 billion, whereas the state has projected $2.35 billion is needed.

Both Lumpkin and Harrell said the $2.35 billion would allow the school districts to increase services they provide to students.

“It would mean we would have additional money to add to the existing budget and we would be able to look at increasing teachers,” Harrell said.

Lumpkin said that public education has been underfunded for many years and that it forces the school districts “to think outside the box” and “be creative” when it comes to deciding how to spend state money each year.

He said revenue is up in the state and that money needs to be put back into education.

“It’s been said before, that education is the way out of poverty. If we want to make our state a better place and keep students here in Mississippi, then we need to fund education.”