Democrats fighting uphill battle

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

By Agnes Dalton

Guest Columnist 

Democrats are fighting an uphill battle to get teachers an across the board pay raise this year with no strings attached. The Republican-led House passed a bill which would give teachers $4250 raise over 4 years. Teachers would receive $1500 the first two years and if the state’s revenues continued to grow at least 3% would receive $2750 in the third year. Teachers in their first 5 years would see an automatic pay raise but more experienced teachers would have to meet 3 of 22 “benchmarks” ranging from professional certification by the National Board for Professional Teachers’ to sponsoring extracurricular clubs. Democrats found the “benchmarks” unacceptable. Rep. Evans, Democrat from Jackson argued for across the board raises. Evans stated “When you want to give somebody $4 a day then add a bunch of hoops for them to jump through, you are insulting them. That’s what the teachers are telling you all over the state. Despite Democratic objections the bill passed with benchmarks and strings attached.

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The Senate unanimously voted to approve raises of $1500 for this July and $1000 next year. In the 3rd year, teachers in schools maintaining A or B ratings would be eligible for merit pay as would teachers in schools that moved up a letter grade. Each school maintaining or moving up to an A would receive $100 per student and those maintaining or moving up to a B would receive $75 per student for merit pay.

Speaker of the House, Phillip Gunn (R) stated that the 3rd year clause in the Senate Bill was unconstitutional therefore negotiations were needed. Democrat Cecil Brown argued that any problem with the third year clause could be ironed out by then since the Legislature meets every year.

The House rejected a Democratic attempt to accept Senate’s version which was smaller but contained no benchmarks or strings.

Democrats argued the House should accept the Senate’s version rather than have it fail by requesting negotiations.

House Minority Leader Bobby Moak (D) said, “I think the percentage game is to take the money that’s on the table. Don’t risk it.” To which Rep. Herb Frierson, (R) of Poplarville said, “We don’t need to cut and run when we’re on the high ground.” The Republican House decided to negotiate with a Senate conference committee for four years, across the board raises which is a change from the original plan in that it drops “benchmarks.”

Speaker of the House, Phillip Gunn (R) was previously quoted about the original House Bill that “The realty is, we have two options. We can bring out a bill that sounds great and talks about an across the board raise, gives them $5,000 and it’ll die. It happened last year. The Governor and Lt. Governor are against it. We can pass it and proclaim ourselves political heroes; and be great in the eyes of the teachers and they’ll get zero in their pockets. Or we can do this bill, which I believe has a legitimate chance of success and it’ll put dollars into their pockets.”

Agnes is the Democratic Party chairperson for Pearl River County.