Superintendents oppose governor’s new proposal

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2004

A proposal by Gov. Haley Barbour and the state Senate wouldcover only the costs passed down by the state-mandated teacher payraises, school officials here say.

The governor Tuesday announced a plan to fund 95 percent of thestate 2004 MAEP.

“I don’t believe that’s a fair offer,” said Brookhaven SchoolDistrict Superintendent Dr. Sam Bounds, who will assume duties asthe executive director of the Mississippi Association of SchoolSuperintendents in June.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Bristeragreed.

“I’m not pleased with that,” he said. “We need education fullyfunded.”

According to Bounds, 95 percent of the MAEP would decrease thetotal education budget shortfall recommended by the LegislativeBudget Committee from $161 million to about $71 million.

However, he said, the $90 million the governor offered does noteven cover the unfunded state mandate to raise teacher salaries.The cost of the teacher pay raise is $95 million, Bounds said.

“That’s just not acceptable,” Bounds said. “It still leaves usfar short of what we need.”

House Education Chairman Randy “Bubba” Pierce said Wednesdaythat Barbour’s latest plan would force local school districts to,in essence, pay the whole cost of the teacher pay raise. Piercesaid that’s too much expense to push down to local districts.

He said he would consider Barbour’s offer if it was bumped up to98 percent.

At 98 percent funding, Pierce said, the local districts wouldhave to pay about half the cost of the pay raise.

According to Brister, Barbour’s current proposal would ease thepinch slightly and allow him to rehire some of the teachers givenpink slips in April.

School districts faced an April 15 deadline to notify teacherswhether they had a job next year. Teachers who did not receiveletters of intent not to rehire would be automatically rehiredunder state law.

More than 2,000 teachers across Mississippi received thoseletters and have been held in limbo about their employment nextyear until the state determines the education budget.

Brister did not say how many teachers the governor’s proposalwould allow him to rehire.

“I haven’t put the pencil to it,” he said. “I feel like when ourteachers and students are performing well and we’re stretching ourdollars for everything they’re worth, then education needs to befully funded.”

The latest proposal would only prompt many school district’s toraise their taxes to cover the loss, Brister said. He said thestate legislature was literally passing the buck.

“We don’t need to burden the local taxpayers every timesomething goes wrong,” Brister said. “They took our building fundsfrom us and the one-cent sales tax designated for textbooks a fewyears ago. So what do we have?”

“They said then that MAEP would be fully funded for allchildren, and that’s what I expect,” he added.

The Senate passed a House bill to extend the session lateWednesday. The session will now end May 14 with a Sunday deadlineto pass the state budget.

In announcing the new plan, Barbour and the Senate abandoned aplan to dip into local school district’s reserve funds to meet the$161 million shortfall. That plan ignited a firestorm of protestsfrom superintendents and other education officials, who said thosefunds were held in reserve to cover emergencies or were used tofund things like classroom construction.