Teacher 'step' pay stays in Bryant plan

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – When Gov. Phil Bryant unveiled his education agenda for the 2013 session recently, he reiterated twice that his merit pay plan for teachers would not touch “the step” pay increase they receive each year.
That commitment appears popular with educators.
The step salary schedule, spelled out in law, details how much a teacher earns per year based on experience and on degree. A teacher with 20 years of experience and a master’s degree would earn more than an instructor with the same amount of experience and a bachelor’s degree.
Or put another way, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience would earn $35,850 annually, not counting any local district supplement, while a teacher at the same education level with 11 years of service would make $495 more.
Some feared the governor would try to take money that goes to fund the step increase and divert it to his merit pay plan. Instead, Bryant is asking the Legislature for $2 million “to develop innovative performance-based compensation models for educators.”
The governor said the Rankin County, Lamar County, Clarksdale and Gulfport school districts have agreed to be pilots for the merit pay plan. Bryant said the MSTAR teacher evaluation program being developed by the state Board of Education will be a component of developing the merit pay plan.
Mississippi State University’s Research & Curriculum Unit developed the governor’s merit pay proposal. It originally suggested that the money put into the step increase each year and local supplements paid by districts could be used to fund a merit pay program, though the MSU study conceded that getting using step funds for a merit pay program might proove difficult to pass in the Legislature.
And there are problems with depending on local supplements to fund a merit pay program. An analysis by the Daily Journal revealed a wide disparity in the amount of the local salary supplement provided by districts to teachers.
The supplemental pay local school districts pay teachers – on top of their standardized state salaries – ranges from a high of $7,575.69 annually for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Biloxi to a low of $100 annually for a teacher with the same degree in Kemper County.
While Bryant said in the summer when he unveiled his merit pay proposal that “it’s time we started paying for teacher quality, not merely longevity,” he opted not to try to convince the Legislature to change the step mode that is based primarily on length of service.
Sam Bounds, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, said that is a good thing.
“Teachers have not had a significant pay raise in several years,” Bounds said. “We are falling behind our neighboring states. The step increase has been the only pay raise they get.
“To take that away from 34,000 teachers and give it to a few would not be fair,” he added, explaining teachers deserve a base pay that is competitive with other states. And that must be achieved before dealing with merit pay.
The average pay for Mississippi teachers for the 2011-12 school year was $41,646 annually, which is more than $6,400 below the Southeastern average. South Dakota at an average pay of $39,850 is the only state to trail Mississippi in teacher pay, according to figures supplied by the state Department of Education.
The base pay for a first-year Mississippi teacher with a bachelor’s degree, not counting any local supplement, is $30,900.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com