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Teachers will see pay raise in July

By Zack Steen

zsteen@dailycorinthian.com

It's been a roller coaster year for a promised teacher pay raise that will happen this summer.

The $1,500 pay increase was passed by Legislators and signed into law by the governor earlier this spring based on numbers given by the state board of education. Once school districts received their budgets for the next school year it was clear there wasn't enough to cover it.

The state board is now confirming they will cover their mistake and all teachers and teacher assistants will receive their pay raise beginning July 1.

State Superintendent Carey Wright on Thursday said the state board is still calculating the amount of the shortfall caused by the department's ignorance of how teachers were coded in its own computer system. Department officials originally said they thought the deficit was $15 million, but Wright said she now doesn't want to make an estimate until a fuller report is compiled later this month.

Republican Rep. Nick Bain of Corinth remains unhappy with the state department's error.

"It's a travesty," he previously told the Daily Corinthian.

He talked about plans to "take a hard look" at the state school board and its leadership next session.

"Teachers deserve this raise ... and they will receive it one way or another," he added.

The problem stems from the department's count of how many teachers were eligible, as documented in a March 27 letter counting 31,157 teachers. Officials say that was a count of teachers in its computer system classified as being paid only with funds from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that divides state aid among school districts.

The idea was to omit teachers paid with federal funds, with federal money covering their raises. But Wright said the department didn't know that its computer system places some teachers paid all or in part with state money into classifications that the department thought included only teachers paid completely with federal money.

Because the count was short, lawmakers allotted only $58 million to pay the raises. The department usually sends state aid to local school districts in two checks a year. Wright said that, if necessary, the department won't split the $58 million in pay raise funds equally, but will send a larger share this summer. She's counting on assurances from Republican leaders that lawmakers will cover the shortfall in January when the next regular session starts.

Republican Sen. Rita Potts Parks of Corinth said a repayment will happen.

"A budget note has been written to clarify spending intentions to MDE," she said. "What MDE covers this summer will be reimbursed at the beginning of the next session."

Because it's an election year, however, there's no guarantee of who will hold top posts in January. Some people have pushed for a special session to solve the problem now, with the pressure of the November general election looming over incumbents. Gov. Phil Bryant and others have rejected that move as a waste of money.

Wright has said the episode points to the continuing need to overhaul the department's data system, called the Mississippi Student Information System, dismissing criticism that the department is incompetent.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)