HED:Teacher pay lives, other proposals die

CATEGORY: Legislature

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Teacher pay lives, other proposals die

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – During a week when a multiyear teacher pay plan proposal was revived from the legislative graveyard, two other key education bills died. Both involved governance of the schools on the local level. One proposal would have required all school board members to be elected. Currently, 62 school districts have elected school boards while 87 mostly municipal school districts have board members who are appointed by the the city governing body, such as the mayor and city council. Some of those 87 districts, which have boundaries extending outside the municipalities, have one elected school board member included among the appointed ones. The other proposal that died would have given local school boards the authority if approved by the voters to issue more bonds than they currently are allowed to under state law.

Elected school boards

Earlier this session, the Mississippi Senate passed a bill that would have required all school districts to be divided into five wards based on population. In November 2001, there would be school board elections in all five wards. Supporters of the legislation said it would make school boards more responsive to the voters. Besides eliminating the appointed posts, it would make all school board elections coincide with statewide elections for governor and elections for president. Currently, the school board members who are elected generally run in “off-year” elections when voter interest is low. ”The power to tax is a very important one,” said Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who represents the Tupelo School District which has an appointed board. “For that reason, I think the people who have the power to tax should have to face the people” through an election. The bill, though, ran into opposition and died in the House Education Committee last week. ”Some of the better school districts have appointed boards,” said House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn. “In addition, the bill would have required the elected boards to run again. We (House members) didn’t find many people for it.”

Increase in bond debt

Another bill that died this week would have allowed school boards to raise the ceiling on the amount of bonds that can be issued to finance long-range construction projects. State law currently caps bonded indebtedness at 15 percent of the total assessed value in the district. For instance, if the assessed valuation in a district is $100 million, the school board can issue bonds totaling $15 million. Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, and Rep. Jay Eads, D-Oxford, both filed bills in their respective chambers raising that ceiling to 30 percent of the assessed valuation. Under the bills, the school districts still would have to obtain approval of 60 percent of the voters before issuing the bonds that would be paid for with local property taxes. A bill passed the Senate allowing school boards to issue bonds totaling 20 percent of the total assessed valuation. But it died last week in the House Ways and Means Committee on a 7-6 vote. Opponents of the proposal said it had the potential to raise property taxes on the local level. Supporters of the proposal stressed that it still would take 60-percent voter approval to issue the bonds. They said the increased ceiling is needed because of rising construction costs that result in school districts’ having to pay more for their building projects. ”It (a higher cap) would give them (school districts) more wriggle room,” Tollison said. But the House Ways and Means Committee disagreed.

Teacher pay

While proposals to increase the cap on the bonds school districts can issue and to elect all school board members died last week, the teacher pay bill that appeared dead was revived. The proposal to provide teachers with a multiyear pay raise appeared dead because key legislators said state tax collections were too unstable to undertake the costly endeavor. But Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said repeatedly that he thought the Legislature should pass a proposal this session to move teacher pay to the Southeastern average over an extended period of time. Early last week, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, D-Maben, who presides over the Senate, reversed course and offered a proposal to provide teachers with a 30 percent raise over a six-year period. This would increase teacher pay to the low $40,000-per year range, which is close to the projected Southeastern average. Later, Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, said the House also would work to pass a multiyear commitment this year. At this pointed in the legislative process, it would take a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules to pass a teacher pay raise bill. But there is speculation that a school accountability bill that is alive in the Senate might be amended to include the teacher pay raise. That would take only a simple majority to pass. The fight at this point might be about whether the proposal would include the triggering mechanism that would not make the raise automatic if state tax collections do not grow by at least 5 percent in any year. Still, some legislators oppose the pay raise proposal. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, has said he fears it might lead to a tax increase. But on Friday the Mississippi School Boards Association endorsed the multiyear proposal. ”For much too long, public elementary and secondary teachers have been at the bottom of the feeding chain,” said John Hartman, executive director of the state school boards association, “That simply is not good enough if we are going to see our state keep up in this complex, technological and challenging world.” Earlier last week, the pro-business Mississippi Economic Council made moving teacher pay to the Southeastern average in five to six years its No. 1 priority. Some fear that while it will not lead to a tax increase it will freeze growth in other state agencies and will prevent salary increases for other employees. The Mississippi Association of State Employees held a news conference Friday at which spokespersons said they do not want to be pitted against teachers, but at the same time do not want to be forgotten. They called on state employees “to converge” on the Capitol Tuesday.

While proposals to increase the cap on the bonds school districts can issue and to elect all school board members died last week, the teacher pay bill that appeared dead was revived. The proposal to provide teachers with a multiyear pay raise appeared dead because key legislators said state tax collections were too unstable to undertake the costly endeavor. But Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said repeatedly that he thought the Legislature should pass a proposal this session to move teacher pay to the Southeastern average over an extended period of time. Early last week, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, D-Maben, who presides over the Senate, reversed course and offered a proposal to provide teachers with a 30 percent raise over a six-year period. This would increase teacher pay to the low $40,000-per year range, which is close to the projected Southeastern average. Later, Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, said the House also would work to pass a multiyear commitment this year. At this pointed in the legislative process, it would take a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules to pass a teacher pay raise bill. But there is speculation that a school accountability bill that is alive in the Senate might be amended to include the teacher pay raise. That would take only a simple majority to pass. The fight at this point might be about whether the proposal would include the triggering mechanism that would not make the raise automatic if state tax collections do not grow by at least 5 percent in any year. Still, some legislators oppose the pay raise proposal. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, has said he fears it might lead to a tax increase. But on Friday the Mississippi School Boards Association endorsed the multiyear proposal. ”For much too long, public elementary and secondary teachers have been at the bottom of the feeding chain,” said John Hartman, executive director of the state school boards association, “That simply is not good enough if we are going to see our state keep up in this complex, technological and challenging world.” Earlier last week, the pro-business Mississippi Economic Council made moving teacher pay to the Southeastern average in five to six years its No. 1 priority. Some fear that while it will not lead to a tax increase it will freeze growth in other state agencies and will prevent salary increases for other employees. The Mississippi Association of State Employees held a news conference Friday at which spokespersons said they do not want to be pitted against teachers, but at the same time do not want to be forgotten. They called on state employees “to converge” on the Capitol Tuesday.