Teacher pay increases over, but 5 years paid off for district|[6/7/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The upcoming school year will be the first in five years in which teachers aren’t expecting a pay raise from state funds, but so far the five-year plan enacted by lawmakers to keep teachers in Mississippi has proved itself worthwhile, local school officials said.

In 2001, state lawmakers committed to raise teacher pay a total of 30 percent – or an average of $9,500 – over five years, the last year of which just ended. The increase bumped the average first-year teacher pay from $23,040 for the 2000-2001 school year to $30,000 last year. For teachers with 25 years experience, the pay jumped from $33,175 to $43,520.

The rate increase was designed to not only attract more Mississippians to the teaching profession, but also to retain good teachers in the state instead of losing them to better-paying fields.

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The quality of job applicants for local teaching positions has certainly not diminished in light of the lack of another raise. In fact, the number seems to be higher than in years past, said Debra Hullum, assistant superintendent for the Vicksburg Warren School District.

&#8220There’s no way for us to know exactly why that is, but we have had more well-qualified applicants than we have had previously, especially in elementary,” she said.

Hullum said there have been many applicants who are children of educators or former educators and many seeking the alternate route to teaching.

&#8220There are a good many who have a non-education degree and who have worked in their field for a year or so and realize they want to teach instead,” she said.

Another possible reason for the influx in well-qualified applicants is the closing of All Saints’ Episcopal School, which has announced it is not accepting students for fall enrollment. Hullum said about 12 from the private school’s faculty have applied for teaching positions within the school district.

Charlie Tolliver, principal at Vicksburg High School, said in the five years he’s been principal he’s always had a good applicant pool from which to fill teaching slots.

&#8220There, of course, will always be areas that are more difficult to fill with teachers such as physics, chemistry and special education because they are more specialized,” he said. &#8220There is never as many for math as there are for social studies.”

Tolliver said although the raises have probably helped statewide, he hasn’t seen a big difference locally.

&#8220I imagine for those new to the teaching field, it probably has made a difference. And then past that, maybe Vicksburg is simply an attractive area for them,” he said.

The Vicksburg Warren School District employs about 570 teachers on average and is ranked as the 15th-highest-paying district in the 152 statewide with an average teacher salary of $42,288, according to figures from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Another attraction to the district could be the monetary supplements the district adds to each teacher’s salary. Instead of paying a first-year teacher the mandated $30,000 set by legislation, each teacher gets an additional $2,200 added by the school district. The supplement increases with certification level and years experience.

Every district provides a local salary supplement, but the amount varies from district to district.

Dale McClung, director of financial operations for the district, said the supplements have been increased three times since the consolidation of the Vicksburg and Warren County districts in 1988. The supplements started at $900 in 1988 and now start at $2,200.

Currently there are 23 teaching positions open due to retirees in the district, and 31 open due to resignations. About two-thirds of the positions have already been filled, Hullum said.