- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn on Monday repeated his support for an across-the-board teacher pay raise this year.

But, the Republican said it will be weeks before lawmakers will know how much money is available to put into raises. Legislators have an early April deadline to adopt a budget for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1.

The House and Senate would have to agree on a teacher pay plan before anything could go to the governor.

Gunn said he likes the idea of merit pay but there is no effective way now to evaluate which teachers are good or bad.

“I don’t want to pay bad teachers. I wish they would go do something else,” he told an audience of about 50 during a forum sponsored by the Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a fellow Republican, has said repeatedly that he wants to base any teacher pay increases on test scores and job evaluations.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who presides over the Senate, said he also prefers merit pay raises over across-the-board raises.

Gunn said he believes most teachers are doing a good job and because it has been seven years since they’ve gotten a pay raise it is time to give them more money.

“I think it will enhance the quality of education in Mississippi,” Gunn said.

The last time Mississippi teachers received an across-the-board raise was in 2007, a state election year. Four districts - Clarksdale, Rankin County, Lamar County and Gulfport - are trying merit pay.

The National Education Association, a teachers’ union, said that in 2011-12, Mississippi teachers were paid an average of $41,646, the second-lowest rate in the country.

Even without an across-the-board pay raise, Mississippi has a salary schedule that gives teachers a “step” increase of $495 a year. Teachers with master’s, specialist or doctoral degrees earn more. Those with 35 years’ experience and a doctorate make at least $64,870, and many districts offer local pay supplements.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said last year it would cost at least $35 million to give a $1,000 pay raise to all certified school employees. That includes teachers, administrators, counselors and others.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus

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