By Tommy Reynolds
Most of this week and last has been spent in floor action considering and passing bills that were approved in committee. One bill in particular, House Bill 504, created a three-hour, heated debate in the House chamber on Thursday, February 6. The measure purports to be a merit-based teacher pay raise bill; however, it is far from what its proponents claim it to be.
The total raise amount is $4,200, paid out piece-meal over a four-year time span and linked to so-called “benchmarks.” For example, in addition to teaching a full load of classes, tutoring during preparation periods, grading papers at night and on weekends and holidays, a teacher is also encouraged to meet “benchmarks” that include joining things like the Rotary Club.
Now, I am a member of the Rotary Club, and I do believe that teachers would make excellent members of our organization, but the reality is that few teachers, who are already struggling to make ends meet, would want to spend $40 per month on club dues – Rotary or otherwise. And they certainly couldn’t leave school in the middle of the day for luncheon meetings. To say that the writers of this bill appear to be a little out of touch with reality would be accurate.
You can see, like some of us in the House did, that this effort to hook a partial pay-raise onto some kind of arbitrary list of hoops to jump through is disheartening to our degreed, professional educators. This point was brought home to me in the hundreds of emails I received from teachers who were extremely disappointed and hurt. Despite their displeasure, most recognized that this may be the only opportunity they will have for a raise of any amount, even though under this measure no one will receive any pay increase until January 1, 2015.
I voted for a raft of amendments that would have removed the “benchmarks,” raised the level of pay to $5,000 per year across-the-board, and others. I voted for one amendment to make sure that belonging to a hate group will not count as one of those aforementioned organization benchmarks. It was the only one that passed.
I took to the well of the House and spoke for an across-the-board pay raise in an effort to persuade my colleagues. In the end, however, I voted for final passage. Keeping this bill alive – however flawed – was the only available means for a raise for education this year, as there is no companion teacher pay bill in the senate. My father was a teacher, and my wife is a retired teacher. To say that I believe our state is failing to honor an important societal and economic engine with inadequate measures like this, is an understatement. If we believe that our children are our future, then we should make sure we respect, encourage and pay those responsible for their education.
The education bill that passed the House on Thursday will now go to the Senate. They may change it in their legislative process. If so, it will be returned, and we will either concur with the changes or invite conference. If we invite conference, the bill may be changed even further to satisfy both chambers’ requests. So, the final measure is yet to be determined.
Please note that no new taxes, either state or local, will be levied to pay for these proposed pay-raises. They are expected to come from the economic growth projected by the state economist back in the fall.
The level of engagement on this issue by teachers and others was encouraging, and I frankly hope there is more to come. Social media, texts, emails and online web cast capabilities are bringing legislators closer to their constituents than ever before.
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main Street, Water Valley, MS 38965, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.