Schools go ahead with teacher contracts

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 21, 2009

Both the Brookhaven and Lincoln County school districts haveapproved issuing teacher contracts for the 2009-10 school year,even though there are no district budgets in place to fundthem.

Contract issuances represent a calculated risk school officialssay is necessary to ensure teachers’ livelihood and keep them fromjumping ship to nearby districts.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister andBrookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett both saidtheir boards approved contracts only for teachers known to bereturning next year, and neither district has begun replacingteachers who are retiring or moving away.

Brister said approving the contracts with no budget isdangerous, but necessary.

“Districts around us are issuing contracts, and we want to keepour good people,” Brister said. “We were trying to get on secureground and wait for the budget, but our teachers needed to know.They deserve it.”

School districts have been unable to craft their budgets becausethe Legislature, which is recessed until the last week of May, hasnot yet passed the state budget that funds education.

Approving contracts for teachers is potentially dangerous forboth districts because neither has a budget in place for the comingschool year, and districts are required to honor contracts – evenif the Legislature does not appropriate enough funding to coverthem.

Brister said the approvals were made cautiously, but withconfidence. Both he and Barrett discussed the matter beforehand,and both agreed that a recent estimate of possible educationfunding levels released by State Superintendent Dr. Hank Boundswould allow contract approvals.

Barrett said Bounds’ predictions have the House voting for fullfunding for education, the Senate voting for $20 million less thanfull funding and Gov. Haley Barbour desiring $40 million less thanfull funding. Even the governor’s lowest figure will allow forteacher contracts, she said.

“We are prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Barrett said. “Weknow that we are fiscally stable and sound enough to go ahead andput contracts in our teachers’ hands for next year. We will stillhave strong pupil/teacher rations and still maintain all of ourprograms, so we are going to go ahead and issue contracts.”