ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — If Gov. Phil Bryant depends on supplemental salaries paid by local school boards to finance his performance pay plan for teachers, it will vary widely from district to district.
The supplemental pay local school districts provide teachers — on top of their standardized state salaries — ranges from a high of $7,575 annually for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Biloxi to a low of $91 for a teacher with the same degree less than two hours away in Richton.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who served as House Education Committee chair for the previous two terms when Democrats were in the majority, said the supplemental pay provided by some districts “is very minimal.”
“We have to figure out how to implement it (merit pay for teachers) and how to pay for it. We want to make sure it (performance pay raise) is just not based on somebody’s opinion,” Brown said.
Bryant, the first-year Republican governor, unveiled his performance-based pay plan last month. It was developed by the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University and is designed to provide flexibility to local school districts to develop merit pay programs that fit their needs.
The plan, Bryant said, is designed to provide pay raises based on student performance with safeguards built in to deal with socio-economic factors and other issues that research has shown might affect student learning.
If state revenue collections improve, Bryant has said he would support putting additional state funds into a performance pay program for teachers.
In the meantime, the Mississippi State study and the governor cite two sources of existing funds that could be diverted to the program. One is the supplemental pay provided to teachers by local districts and the other is the state funds normally paid to teachers based on seniority.
“These and other ideas for possible funding will be explored in the coming months for when the Legislature convenes in January,” said Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock.
The study said diverting the increments provided to teachers as part of their base state salary for each additional year in the classroom would be difficult because the Legislature controls those funds.
“However, local districts contribute to teacher compensation with budgeted local supplements,” the study said. “Budgets for PBC (performance-based compensation) should come from these local funds.
“Students in the local districts are the direct beneficiaries of the PBC system as it extends the teacher evaluation process targeted to more effective classroom teachers — and more students achieving more.”
The study goes on to say that “basic statistics” suggest only 16 percent of teachers would be above average. But as the performance-based system matures and more teachers buy in, the study suggests that more teachers would excel.
Using the local salary supplement as the primary source of funding the merit-based system would mean the rewards for teachers in some districts would be much larger than in other districts.
The average pay for Mississippi teachers for the 2011-12 school year was $41,646 annually, which is more than $6,400 below the Southeastern average. South Dakota at an average pay of $39,850 is the only state to trail Mississippi in teacher pay, according to the state Department of Education.
Also, according to Department of Education information, the average local supplement, which factors into the average annual salary, is $1,400.70 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree, with an additional $111 for a master’s degree teacher. Teachers with a specialist degree get about $100 more and teachers with a doctorate receive another $100.
Both the state’s base pay schedule and the local salary supplements reward teachers with more advanced degrees and in some instances the local districts also factor in seniority for their supplemental pay.
The state’s base salary schedule also rewards teachers for more years of service. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree gets an additional $495 annually in base state pay for each additional year of seniority. Teachers with advanced degrees receive larger seniority-based increases each year.
If those state funds were diverted either wholly or partially to a performance-based pay system, it could be distributed equally from district to district to the best teachers regardless of the wealth of the school system.
Diverting the local supplement would reward good teachers in wealthier districts at a much higher rate than good instructors in poor districts.
For instance, a teacher in Tupelo with a bachelor’s degree received a local supplement of $4,594 annually for the 2011-12 year. The same teacher in Lee County received $1,457 while the Nettleton teacher got $567.
In Lafayette County, the Oxford teacher received $4,365 in a local supplement compared to $1,000 for the Lafayette teacher.
It appears teachers in counties with casinos do much better. The $7,575 local supplement for Biloxi teachers is the highest in the state, based on the 2011-12 numbers. The average local supplement for the five school districts in casino-friendly Harrison County is $5,748.
In Tunica, also a casino haven, with more local funds to divert to education, the supplement is $5,000. Next door in Quitman, one of the poorer counties in the state, the supplement is $300.