‘IT’S A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION,’ Natchez teachers respond to senate passing $230M pay raise plan

Published 3:43 pm Thursday, March 3, 2022

NATCHEZ — Erica Brown-Tanner, an English teacher at Natchez Early College, said she and her husband both work in education and her husband works a second job after school and weekends while she pursues her Doctorate in Administration to secure their financial future.

Every year, teachers get a small bump in pay but it is not nearly enough to make a difference, she said.

“This should not be our situation. I know so many teachers who work second and third jobs after school and on weekends just to make it through the month. Prices are increasing on everything from food to gas,” she said.

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The Mississippi Senate unanimously advanced a $230 million teacher pay raise plan with bipartisan support on Wednesday.

According to Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, this is the third time senators have sent legislation proposing a significant raise for teachers to the House for consideration during the 2022 Legislative Session.

“The future of Mississippi is in our children and those who educate them,” Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said. “Giving teachers a raise continues to be a priority for the Senate.”

Under the legislation, teachers would receive a $4,800 raise on average through the base pay salary schedule after a two-year phase-in. Class A, baccalaureate-degreed teachers would start at $40,000.  All teachers would also receive $500 step increases at most every year, including in the first three years of teaching.  Step increases are not provided in the current salary schedule until the third year of teaching, though many leave the profession before Year 5.

At Years 5, 10, 15, and 20, teachers would receive a larger increase based on their certification. Class A teachers (baccalaureate) would receive $1,325; Class AA teachers (master’s degree) would receive $1,425; Class AAA (specialist) would receive $1,525; and Class AAAA (doctoral) would receive $1,625. At 25 years of service, teachers would receive an increase of $2,500.

Teacher assistants would receive a $2,000 raise under the bill.

The base salary schedule does not include any local supplements teachers receive or state supplements, like extra compensation to locate in critical needs areas or become a National Board-Certified Teacher.

Tanner, like most, said she feels that this pay increase is a step in the right direction.

“This legislation would assist many teachers and their family members by allowing the possibility of not having to rely on second and third jobs for enough income to make it each month,” she said. “We should be able to work 40 plus hours a week teaching and come home to rest, refresh and spend time with our families, but that is not the case.”

Margaret Moore, a West Elementary kindergarten teacher, also says making ends meet in today’s society is “very challenging” for teachers like herself.

“The cost of living continuously increases, and teacher pay has always lagged,” she said. “Teachers work very hard to prepare our future leaders of the world, so the increase from the legislature would be a step in the right direction to maintain the teachers and assistants and get new teachers to join the profession. Teaching today has many challenges. It’s good to know that we are finally getting consideration for a significant pay increase in Mississippi.”

Ernest “Tony” Fields, the public engagement coordinator with Natchez-Adams School District, said the raises proposed would bring teacher salaries in Mississippi at or above the Southeastern and national averages.

He added the legislation now under House consideration would help the district “be very competitive with recruitment and retention.”

“Many teachers leave the profession at some point during the first five years with the majority citing the lack of pay for the enormous amounts of duties as a reason for leaving,” he said. “Teachers also move to neighboring states who offer better starting salaries.”

He said to attract qualified teachers, NASD offers additional pay supplements to candidates with certification areas of critical need.

Still, the district currently has 21 vacancies for certified teachers with 224 certified teachers employed along with 78 teacher assistants.

“The House and the Senate have appeared to be very motivated to get something substantial done for teacher and teacher assistant pay this session,” he said. “Many of the legislators have spoken directly to school districts and education proponent groups across the state promising to raise teacher pay significantly this year. We can only hope and pray that they follow through with the promises that have been made.”

Tanner said a significant pay raise would help herself and other teachers, who are already under pressure because of COVID-19 and being understaffed, “feel appreciated and increase pride in our daily work.”

“(Legislators) should do whatever is needed to keep our schools fully staffed with quality teachers to educate our kids,” she said.