Wright says money available to cover raises for teachers left out

By KAYLEIGH SKINNER - MISSISSIPPI TODAY,

Local school districts will not have to find a way to pay for teachers accidentally left out of a $1,500 pay raise, state officials said Thursday.

The Legislature appropriated $58 million for the pay raises earlier this year, and the Mississippi Department of Education will use those funds to pay for all teachers to receive their raises until lawmakers can make up the budget gap in the 2020 legislative session.

When asked if districts would be expected to shore up the shortfall, Carey Wright told reporters, “Lord no, they’re not gonna have to.”

“There is sufficient money to cover the teacher pay raises until the Legislature meets. We’re very comfortable with that,” she said.

In April, local superintendents noticed that there were not enough funds for them to give raises to all of their teachers. The mistake came about because of a coding error in the information system the Mississippi Department of Education uses where some special education, career technical education, gifted teachers and teacher assistants were omitted from the count given to lawmakers.

Wright detailed the coding mishap at a state board of education recent meeting. When the Legislature was working out how much money to appropriate for the raises, they asked the department for the total number of teachers, and how many of those were federally funded. Teachers are paid with state funds or federal funds, depending on the position. Those paid through federal funds would not have received a raise with state dollars.

The department used the Mississippi Student Information System, or MSIS, which codes personnel with numbers 0-9. The codes identify teachers by the course they teach, and at the time, MDE officials incorrectly thought the codes also identified the funding source.

“When we had to dig down to find out are you federally funded or not, MSIS does not have the capacity to do that,” Wright said. “We have no way of knowing how that is done at the local level because MSIS just doesn’t have the capacity.”

The department is expected to present a plan for how to upgrade the system at a June state board of education meeting. The Legislature gave the department $500,000 this past session for upgrades, but Wright said that amount is simply “seed money.”

“I’m sure it’s going to cost several million dollars but if that’s what we need to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again then we’ve got to get that done,” she said.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves both suggested the additional funds can be provided as a deficit appropriation during the 2020 legislative session, which starts in early January. However, Bryant can not run for reelection due to term limits and Reeves is running for governor.

Wright said she did not yet know the amount of the deficit appropriation because the department is still sorting through information collected from school districts. In the wake of the pay snafu, the Mississippi Department of Education contacted each district and asked them to clarify how many teachers are federally funded and the amount of federal funds used to pay them. The department expects to have a better understanding of this by next week, she said.

“I have no idea until we get all this information back in, how these teachers are coded, and I don’t want to go on the record making a guess at that,” she said.

https://www.mississippitoday.org

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