New bill would limit salary for MDE superintendent

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Mississippi finally ranked first in education — but not necessarily in a good way.

The state’s Superintendent of Education Carey Wright is the highest paid state school chief in the country. Her salary of over $300,000 a year, according to Education Week, breaks down to about $6,000 a week.

Wright pulls in more than twice the salary of Gov. Phil Bryant.

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With Mississippi consistently ranked near the bottom in education in the country, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, wants some changes to the next superintendent’s salary.

“I’ve written a bill that will come up in the next Legislature in January that will cut the salary back when the next state superintendent takes office,” Currie said. “I can’t take away what they are making now, but this will be put into place to ensure future superintendents aren’t making that salary.”

In Currie’s bill, she cuts the salary down to $250,000 annually to start, and any increase would go before the Legislature for approval.

Right now, the superintendent’s salary is controlled by the state Board of Education.

Before 2011, the law stated that the superintendent of education’s salary had to be 90 percent of what the commissioner of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning made. So anytime the commissioner got a raise, so did the superintendent of education, she said.

“The salary had gotten out of hand. The Legislature wrote a bill and we took out that formula. We turned it over to the state Board of Education, hoping they could control it, but it hasn’t made much of a difference,” Currie said.

She has no idea why the salary was originally tied in with the IHL.

“It was a sneaky way of making sure that their salary increased, but back in the late ‘90s, when Hank Bounds was superintendent, we stayed on the bottom in rankings in the nation. I can’t say we got our money’s worth,” said Currie.

Bounds is now president of the University of Nebraska.

Currie did say that Wright has improved students’ grades, graduation rates and ACT scores throughout the state and she should be commended on that.

According to Education Week, an average state superintendent’s salary is $174,000.

Florida Superintendent Pam Stewart is the second-highest paid in the nation with a salary of $276,000.

Bryant’s annual salary is $120,000.

“You want the job to be attractive so good people will come here. At some point we’re going to have to look at salaries that our own governor doesn’t even make,” Currie said. “If they do a bang up job and we improve our schools, the Legislature could pay them more. We need to be more in line with surrounding states, because the salary has gotten a little out of hand.”

Sen. Sally Doty, R- Brookhaven, said the salary seems out of line and deserves a hard look.

“With the information I have right now, I would certainly support a revision of the salary schedule at the Mississippi Department of Education,” said Doty.

Carey Wright