DeSoto County Schools (DCS) Supt. Cory Uselton has told his district teachers and teacher assistants that all of them will receive a $1,500 pay raise next school year, even if it means coming up with funds from the district budget to make up the difference.
This week it was learned an administrative error left out some public school teachers and teacher assistants from the raise approved and signed by Gov. Phil Bryant during the 2019 Legislative session.
One legislator, Democratic Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford, was quoted by Mississippi Today, “This is a really big deal,” estimating the shortfall could be as much as $12 million.
The report said “a mistake in the way certain types of teachers are coded in an information system means there are not enough state funds to provide the raise for certain types of teachers.”
Uselton said he was informed of the situation by the Mississippi Department of Education and informed district employees in an email Wednesday.
“I sent the email to reassure all of our teachers and teacher assistants that all of our people would receive the $1,500 raise regardless of what types of circumstances we face with the Mississippi Department of Education or with the Legislature,” Uselton said. “We have the same concerns that other districts have that they may not receive that funding from them but I’m going to make sure that all of our teachers and teacher assistants receive the raise that they deserve.”
For DeSoto County Schools, however, the amount of money needed to cover the difference will range in the neighborhood of $1 million, according to an early estimate from DCS Chief Financial Officer Stacey Graves.
“If we have to make some type of budget amendment or budget cut, we’ll make those necessary adjustments,” said Uselton. “From our standpoint, if we have to cover the extra from the local level, that’ll be something that we’ll make sure to do.”
A Mississippi Department of Education statement read, “The MDE calculated the number of positions based on the code in the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) that referenced MAEP-only funded teachers and teacher assistants. Upon further review, it was determined there were additional teachers who were eligible for the raise who were not coded in MSIS as MAEP-funded positions.”
The statement went on to say it would quickly verify the number of MAEP-funded teachers and teacher assistants, adding it would work with legislators to obtain the additional funding for the pay raise.
“Teachers and teacher assistants deserve their raise and we’re not going to stand in the way of it,” said Uselton.
Politicians have come out with comments about the situation, including the three candidates for the Republican nomination for Mississippi governor.
“A deficit appropriation may resolve this problem but better long term planning and prioritization of our budget can prevent this issue in the future,” said state Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando). “This is a perfect example of why we need a leader with a business background rather than a career politician leading our state the next four to eight years.”
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., also a candidate for governor, said, “Every teacher is required to be included in the recent pay raise and I hope this situation gets cleared up as soon as possible. Education will be on the top of my agenda in the legislative session in January including my goal for a teacher pay raise.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who some consider the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, said, "MDE has already made clear that they will sort this out and make sure that every teacher receives the raise that we worked to give them. No one will be left out when the paychecks come this summer because of a clerical error, and school districts will not be on the hook. There's not a teacher in our state that makes what they deserve, and we want to keep raising pay as often as we can. As governor, I will continue working to invest in education and our educators to keep the system growing stronger."
Efforts have also been made to reach out to Attorney General Jim Hood’s campaign for his position as a Democratic frontrunner for that party’s nomination.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.