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Musgrove to manufacturers: Teacher pay is best attractor

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove addresses the Warren County Manufacturing Association Wednesday morning. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[05/16/01] A raise in teacher pay leads his list of priorities to improve the state and keep Mississippi competitive, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove told a manufacturing group Wednesday morning at the Vicksburg Inn and Convention Center.

Musgrove said the state has not been paying teachers enough to encourage people to become teachers and that a large number of good teachers are being lost to other states or other careers.

“The last thing we want is to have good teachers go off to another state,” he said. “They need to have some degree of assurance that people won’t be playing games with them.”

His visit to the informal association known as the Warren County Manufacturers Wednesday morning was Musgrove’s second in as many days. Tuesday, he appeared with Entergy Mississippi President Carolyn Shanks to tour a public-private partnership to have Internet access in every Mississippi public school classrooms. The Vicksburg Warren School District will get 151 more computers under the $6 million effort.

Musgrove and lawmakers have agreed on a five-year pay plan for more pay for teachers with the largest increases in the last years of the plan.

Teachers are getting contracts for the 2001-02 school year this month and in June and a dispute has arisen as to whether the increases should be considered one-year bonuses or increases in base pay.

A dispute has also arisen over whether to leave in place the state’s provision, enacted in the 2000 session, that there will be no increases unless there’s 5 percent annual growth in state revenue.

Musgrove said the Legislature has misplaced priorities, saying the state already has 2,630 more beds in prisons than prisoners and the Legislature decided to build 1,000 more at a cost of $15 million a year over the next 25 years.

“Our teachers deserve better than the games being played by the Legislature,” Musgrove said.

Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, has differed with Musgrove on provisions of the teacher pay plan. “One thing we do agree on is education and the need for a stronger educational system,” Chaney said.

Musgrove also said two-year colleges need better support.

“Community colleges do the best job of providing training,” he said. However, he said, there is a concern of qualified people leaving the state’s job market after training for better wages.

“We need to keep business, industry and our people in mind,” he said. “If they don’t have the opportunity to provide for their families here, they’ll go where they can.”

Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George said Musgrove made some sound points regarding the need to maintain competitive pay for people in all industries.

“If you’re going to attract quality employees, you have to deal with the cost of it,” George said.

South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb said Musgrove was short on facts. “I’m glad he focused on education, but he didn’t give a lot of details,” Habeeb said. “We heard about priorities but he didn’t say how he was willing to meet them.”