Teacher shortage, budget talks lead school board meeting
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By RUSSELL TURNER
With less than two months before students return to classes the Greene County School District is having real trouble finding qualified teachers to fill vacancies.
Despite cutting six positions across the county due to changes in enrollment and continued underfunding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), Supt. of Education Charles L. Breland says the district has six certified teaching positions that remain vacant this week.
“I’ve been sounding the alarm for the past few years on this issue, but every year we have been fortunate to pull it out and fill all of our positions by the end of the summer,” Breland said Monday at the regular June meeting of the Greene County Board of Education. “I am really concerned that might not be the case this year.”
“The pool of applicants is almost non-existent and we’ve been out recruiting at our colleges and universities.”
Breland told board members there are several factors he believes are playing into the shortage of applicants and thinks the problem could just get worse. Among the biggest issues, Breland said, are the pay scale for educators and the negative environment surrounding the profession in recent years. He says those are issues that are impacting districts all over Mississippi, but it is having a bigger impact on Greene County due to the proximity to Alabama and the coastal counties.
The Mississippi legislature passed a $1,500 per year increase in salary for teachers and some support staff this past session. And, Breland said Greene County’s local supplement of $600 per degree, on top of the state scale, is in line with neighboring school districts. However, with the passage of pay raises for teachers in Alabama, educators across that state line are making about $5,000 more per year than a teacher with equal qualifications and experience in Mississippi. Similarly, nearby Mississippi school districts in more affluent areas are also offering compensation packages that Greene County simply can’t afford to offer.
“It really makes it tough when you are competing against a $5,000 pay difference just a few miles over the state line and also with school districts on the Gulf Coast that are able to offer much larger local supplements,” Breland said.
Breland added that the teaching profession has lost a lot of its appeal due to the increased demands put on teachers and the political environment surrounding public education. He said teachers do not receive the same respect and appreciation as they once did and are continually asked to do more with less.
“It has gotten to the point that you just don’t have anyone going into teaching anymore and the ones that do often do not stay,” Breland said. “I had a certified teacher tell me recently he could make the same amount of money and save himself a lot of stress and frustration by working odd jobs as a handyman.”
“We have been fortunate to attract good teachers in the past because we have great students, very few disciplinary problems compared to other areas and good working environments. But, it comes to a point where all these factors start to take their toll and that is where we are now.”
Breland said the school district and county and municipal officials need to do a better job of promoting the positives of living and raising a family in Greene County, but that some of the problems of recruitment are going to require action from state leaders to make an impact.
School district hopes to gain revenue without new taxes
Greene County school officials are hoping to take some positive financial strides this coming budget year without putting any new burdens on average taxpayers.
School officials held a budget meeting prior to Monday’s regular meeting to discuss the budgeting process. Chief Financial Officer Dennis Cochran told board members he was still awaiting updated data from state and local tax officials regarding the county’s assessed valuation, but was very hopeful the district would see a significant increase in local tax revenues in the coming year due to the expiration of tax abatement agreements with Southern Pines Energy Center and the Southeast Supply Header gas pipeline that runs through the county. The two entities, according to Cochran, represent roughly $16-million in taxable property that has been exempt from certain property taxes for the past 10 years. With the expiration of those tax abatement agreements, the school district would see about a 15 percent increase in revenues. The overall county budget, Cochran said, which is set by the county’s board of supervisors could see as much as a 32 percent spike in tax receipts. Those numbers are yet to be finalized, but the increases in revenues would be a welcome site for school and county officials.
“Potentially, $500,000 to $600,000 may be added to the school district’s ad valorem revenue for fiscal year 2020 without a millage rate increase,” Cochran said. “This will help absorb the cost of pay-raises for non-certified staff.”
He said it will also help offset approximately $150,000 less that the school district expects to receive from the state through MAEP funding this coming year. Cochran and Supt. Charles Breland said staffing cuts will also produce some savings for the district.
Cochran said he will continue to work with local and state tax agencies to finalize budget numbers and will share budgeting information with board members as the June 27 budget hearing approaches. School officials will have to make their budget request to supervisors by early August and will look to finalize the budget by July 15 when they are set to hold their regular July meeting.
School officials are considering some major purchases and repairs. They have already planned to continue to upgrade the school transportation fleet with the purchase of up to five new buses this coming year, along with service vehicles for the transportation department and assorted furnishings and equipment for the county’s campuses.
They are also considering extending the lifespan of a special 3-mill note that sets aside millage each year to pay for longterm expenses, such as construction projects and major repairs. The current 3-mill note is set to expire in 2025, but school officials are considering extending that out to 2040 for an additional $3-4 million to be used for roofing and electrical system repairs on several campuses, upgraded fencing and security camera systems for each campus, paving on school campuses, an addition to the transportation department service center, lighting for the GCHS soccer complex and other athletic facility upgrades, such as new bleachers at Sand Hill School, McLain Attendance Center and Leakesville Jr. High School.
In other business, school officials:
- approved Tracy Rebecca Clark, Elizabeth Landon Norris and Cammie James Hays as substitute cafeteria workers for the upcoming school year;
- accepted resignations from Janice M. Ball (MAC, teacher’s assistant), Emily Slater (GCHS, Band), Krystal Lott (GCHS, certified teacher), Ruby Brewer (bus driver), Sheryl Bolton (MAC cafeteria staff), Cheryl Clark (SHS, certified teacher), Sabrina Strickland (LJHS, certified teacher), Jeri L. Moorman (cafeteria P/T, MAC), Carolee Washington (LES, teacher’s assistance) and Crystal Johnson (Admin. Assistant LES);
- approved transfer/release requests for three county students to enroll in other school districts;
- approved the removal of 20-25 mature pine trees from 16th section land being used by the Sand Hill Dixie Youth program. League officials plan to improve parking at the facility through the removal of the trees by methods recommended by the county forester;
- approved recommendations for the hiring of Candida Whalen (certified teacher, LES), Janice Dueitt (LES cafeteria), Sandy Hoffman (LES clerical assistant), Shelby Smith (SPED, LJHS) and Reagan Reid, Elizabeth Nash, Wendi Smith, Kaylee McLendon and Keira McCann-Singleton as non-certified employees at LES; an
- n approved a pay increase for longterm substitute teachers (certified teachers) from $85 to $100 per day.