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More than 700 teaching positions slashed

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi schools cut 2 percent of the jobs for certified teachers this academic year because of tight budgets, state Department of Education officials told lawmakers yesterday.

That’s a loss of about 705 jobs among the roughly 33,000 teaching positions.

State Board of Education member Claude Hartley told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that reducing the number of teachers can mean increasing the number of students in many classrooms.

Officials said not every district cut 2 percent of teaching jobs. Some cut more and some cut fewer.

Several Mississippi school districts improved their accountability rankings during the 2009-10 academic year, according to data released this month. Fifty-one percent were in the top three levels of rankings. That was up from 40 percent in 2008-09.

Because of the sputtering economy and weak revenues, legislators struggled to write a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Some of the schools’ funding depended on the state receiving federal stimulus money, but the federal money was approved after many school districts had already offered employment contracts for the current academic year.

Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham said he didn’t know how many of the teaching jobs might be filled now that federal money is available. He said districts were notified Friday about their share of the funding.

Todd Ivey, the department’s finance director, said the 705 job losses were for certified teachers whose contracts were not renewed.

He said other jobs were left unfilled this year as well: 164 positions for administrators, counselors and librarians; 792 for teacher assistants; and 401 for non-certified workers such as custodians. Ivey said he didn’t have information readily available about the percentage of jobs cut in each of those categories.

The Department of Education has not yet gathered information about the number of teaching jobs that remain unfilled after someone retired. Lawmakers asked for those numbers.

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