By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Mississippi school chiefs are asking lawmakers to increase funding, raise teacher salaries and allow local districts to set their own start dates.
The leader of the state’s superintendent association outlined the organization’s legislative goals on Wednesday during a meeting with school district superintendents from Northeast Mississippi.
Those include the full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula established by state law to determine how much state money each district should receive. Since 2008, it has been underfunded by $1.3 billion.
“We are in a situation now where we have been cut so drastically,” said Sam Bounds, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. “That has caused our superintendents to make some very hard decisions that has harmed the education of our kids.”
The organization also is asking legislators to increase the state salary scale for the first time since 2007. Bounds said that fewer students have entered teacher education programs in recent years and that it will soon lead to a teacher shortage.
“The only way to attract these bright minds into education is to pay them,” he said.
The other top priority for MASS is to change a 2012 state law that dictates districts can not start school until the third Monday in August. That law goes into effect next August and would be a change for many districts that now start at the beginning of the month.
Bounds said the law would lead to a more compact calendar with fewer holidays and less time for teachers and students to “rejuvenate” during the year.
It also would push many first-semester exams after Christmas, he said, meaning students wouldn’t get a clean break at the holiday. If the school year extended into June, it could prevent graduates from enrolling in summer classes and teachers from working toward advanced degrees.
“Our position is let local school districts decide the needs of the community in establishing the start of school,” he said.
Other priorities include determining state funding based on actual daily membership instead of average daily attendance, providing funds for technology infrastructure and maintaining the stability of the state retirement system.