Pay raise benchmarks insult to school teachers

Kevin Horan

 By Kevin Horan

   The members of the House are currently in the process of voting on bills covering a number of issues important to our district.
   Ordinarily, these bills have been vetted in committees and meet with little resistance when they come before us.
   Occasionally, however, a bill is brought forward that results in passionate and prolonged debate. These situations almost always result in a strictly partisan vote. Such was the case last Thursday when House Bill 504, the teacher pay raise bill, came before us for a vote.
   My colleagues brought forth many amendments providing for across-the-board pay raises, and I voted for each of them. They all failed.
   The final measure provides for a teacher pay raise of up to $4,200, beginning Jan. 1, 2015, and spreading over a four-year period. It is important to note that of that amount, only $1,500 is guaranteed — and not to everyone. With passage of this bill, new teachers will receive the $1,500 increase automatically while, as incomprehensible as it may seem, teachers with more than five years of experience, must meet benchmarks in order to receive the same raise.
   This series of benchmarks, many of which are pointless, time consuming and do nothing to directly affect teacher or student performance, is apparently a feeble attempt to pacify the on-going calls for a “merit based” pay raise.
   One such benchmark provides for teachers to join civic organizations and clubs. The Rotary Club, Civitan Club, and other similar organizations that hold their meetings primarily during the day are named specifically.
   While I applaud these worthy organizations and the great work they do, meeting this benchmark will obviously be impossible for teachers. I doubt parents will approve of teachers being out of the classroom in order to fulfill this requirement. In addition, the bill provided no guidance as to what types of groups will be considered acceptable.
   During floor debate, I offered an amendment that basically prevents educators from joining any organization that professes hatred toward other groups. Although I never thought any teacher would join such an organization, the measure was so ambiguous that any group could be deemed acceptable. This was the only amendment that passed out of six amendments offered.
   I received hundreds of e-mails from teachers asking me to vote to kill the bill. They felt it was degrading, demeaning, and a slap in the face.
   Many of my colleagues received feedback from teachers who, though they did not support the bill, believed it might be the only opportunity for a pay increase this year. Based on these responses, some members voted “yes,” despite their reservations about the bill.
   When it came to a vote on final passage, I chose to vote “present” in protest on behalf of the hard-working, deserving teachers of this district. Of course, our opponents may use this as an opportunity to claim those of us who did not support the bill voted “against teacher pay raises.” So be it. I protested what I considered an insult to our teachers.
   Funds for these raises will come from the state’s projected economic growth, as outlined by the state economist — not new taxes — and will cost approximately $45 million per year when fully implemented.
   Raises for other public employees are overdue as well. While I’m certainly in favor of smaller government, our public servants should earn respectable and adequate wagers for their services. They have waited far too long for meaningful pay increases.
   I was encouraged by the amount of civic engagement during the debate and passage of this bill. Many people were paying attention to this important issue, and we need to keep the momentum of public involvement going.
   I urge everyone to visit while we are in session to watch the legislature at work in a live web feed, or go to the Mississippi College School of Law website where recorded debates can be retrieved for viewing by date or bill number.

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