Lawmakers left with $14 million shortfall after mistake in calculating teacher pay raise

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Mississippi Legislature did not appropriate enough money to provide an annual $1,500 pay raise to all public school teachers in Mississippi due to an apparent administrative error. Despite the error, a legislative leader has told the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson that all teachers will receive their raises and that school districts should not have to come out-of-pocket to cover the gap.

Last week Gov. Phil Bryant signed a $1,500 pay raise for teachers and assistant teachers into law, but a mistake in the way certain types of teachers are coded in an information system means there are not enough state funds to provide the raise for certain types of teachers. This leaves already underfunded local districts on the hook.

Lawmakers by early 2020 will have to come up with an additional $12 million to $14 million to cover the mistake in funding. Gov. Phil Bryant has said he will not call a special session to remedy the issue.

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In a statement, Bryant said the state’s education agency bears responsibility for the error.

“The taxpayers of Mississippi should not have to fund a special session because of a mistake made the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). MDE should identify any other funds that can be used to pay for the raises not accounted for in the original funding, and the Legislature can refund that source through a deficit appropriation in January,” Bryant said in a statement.

Mississippi Today obtained a letter sent to House and Senate education chairmen Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford. In it, a Mississippi Department of Education official wrote that the Legislature asked the department to calculate the cost of the $1,500 raise for each teacher. The department did this using the Mississippi Student Information System, which tracks teachers by category. Their calculation did not include certain types of teachers, like gifted learning, special education and others.

As a result, “the MDE determined that 31,157.51 Full Time Equivalent” teachers qualify for the raise which would cost the state more than $58.4 million, the letter said. Those teachers are defined as classroom teachers, assistant teachers, librarians, counselors and other certified educators and staff who work directly with students, the letter said.

A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement to Mississippi Today “If this letter is found to have inaccurate information, the Lieutenant Governor will support a deficit appropriation at the beginning of the 2020 session.”

Reeves is running for governor and will not be the lieutenant governor during the 2020 legislative session.

Bennett and Tollison did not respond when Mississippi Today reached out for a comment.

Late in the session, legislative leaders were looking for ways to provide a raise larger than the $1,000 that they originally thought they were going to provide for teachers. There was an apparent mistake that some teachers would be paid with federal funds when in reality they were not.

The teachers not included in the pay raise are in the fields of career technical education, special education, gifted classes and a certain group of teacher assistants.

The issue has surfaced against the backdrop that many teachers have expressed disappointment that they are not receiving a larger raise to get them closer to the Southeastern average and some have discussed striking.

In addition, the Legislature has again underfunded public schools by more than $200 million in the formula to provide state funding for the basics to operated local school districts.

Hughes said unless the Legislature calls a special session to fix the mistake, local school districts would have to come up with the money to provide the pay raise.

Lee County School District superintendent Jimmy Weeks said state funds were not provided for about 125 certified teachers and 40 assistant teachers in his district.

“I hope this was a miscommunication… and the Legislature takes whatever action is needed to cover the cost of the raise,” Weeks said. “If they don’t do that, it will be a big lick to local school districts.”

He estimated it would cost his district $310,000 annually to cover the raise.

Interim superintendent in the Coahoma County School District Ilean Richards said she was notified about some teachers being left out of the raise.

“(Our teachers) won’t be left out even if the district has to pick up the supplement,” she said. “I can’t speak for anyone else but I can speak for Coahoma County School District.”

Dennis Dupree, superintendent of the Clarksdale Municipal School District, checked to see if those individuals were left out, and they were.

“They are not included and it’s so messed up. … It’s not funded how the Legislature said the money will be distributed,” he said.

Dupree mentioned that some of the teachers raises did not equal to $1500, some ranged between $300 and $900.

“It’s just ridiculous and all over the place … a district like ours, we’re not capable of picking up those salaries. There’s no way we will be able to do that. I’m sure they’ll say these are one of those funded mandates with no funds, but there’s no way we can do it.”

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