‘We are teachers too’: Community college faculty seem to be slowing down the increase in legislation

The Legislature has spent $ 11 million on faculty pay increases in the Mississippi community college system, but some say this is not enough to ensure that their salaries compete with the K-12 after a historic teacher pay increase.

The 15 community colleges in Mississippi have long struggled to maintain excellent and bright faculty due to a lack of state funding. A 2007 law required community colleges to receive mid-level funding, or at least half the amount each legislature spends on K-12s and regional universities, but that never happened.

Some are now saying that many faculties will make more money if the historic pay rise for K-12 teachers and the relatively modest amount of money for community college instructors are converted to teaching K-12.

“I really want to make that clear, and I’m happy with the K-12 coaches,” said Thomas Hubner, president of Meridian Community College. “But it will absolutely affect our ability to attract and retain coaches at the community college level.”

The chances of a community college instructor earning more in K-12 will vary, and there is a lack of data to show how it works overall. The Mississippi Department of Education has not estimated how the pay rise will affect the salaries of average teachers. It is difficult to make direct comparisons between K-12 and community college instructors because they work on different contract lengths and teach different subject areas.

For example, if Brandi Pickett, a wellness instructor at Meridian Community College, goes back to K-12, a historic teacher salary increase means that she can earn about $ 14,000 more because of her years of experience and being a National Board Certified Teacher.

As she goes to community college and loves teaching self-reminded students, Pickett continues in her current position with a base salary of $ 49,500 per year. But she knows that many community college faculties, especially those who teach general education courses such as history or science, may be motivated to go to K-12.

“Why is this (my salary) not comparable to K-12?” Pickett said. “Why don’t people try to keep those great teachers and encourage them not to change? Where I come from, people can go and teach in Alabama across the state border.

In March, the legislature passed a $ 246 million pay raise for K-12 teachers, the largest in state history. The average teacher in Mississippi earned $ 46,862 in the 2020-21 school year, but that will increase with the increase in salary. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Post – Secondary Education Data System, the average full – time community college instructor earned $ 50,465 last year.

The presidents of 15 community colleges in Mississippi initially asked the Legislature for a $ 11 million salary, which would increase the system’s approximately 6,000 employees by 3 percent. But because of inflation and the historic amount of K-12 teachers are likely to receive, they raised that request to $ 25 million in January, said Kell Smith, interim executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.

The legislature stood firm on the first demand.

Community colleges in Mississippi are already struggling to keep up with the faculty, especially those with vocational and technical education, and those with vocational and technical education who can do more work than it teaches. Hubner said the MCC recently lost an instructor in the Electric Lineman program because the college could not match the salaries paid by industry outside the state. He described the process of trying to find a replacement as “unbelievable”.

“There have been situations where we have been trying for nine months to find a welding instructor because our pay scale has so far been under trying to pay those people,” he said.

Without adequate state funding, community colleges are hampered in their ability to raise faculty salaries on their own. Some colleges require higher property taxes to fill budget gaps or raise tuition, Hubner said. But the latter option makes it more difficult for community colleges to meet their charges: “Offering access to the working class option or higher ed system,” said Chris Stevenson, history coach at Itawamba Community College.

Stevenson says he and his wife like to joke that “poverty has taken its toll” when they decided to become teachers.

“It’s more about the work of love than the work of pay,” he said.

In 2007, the Legislature sought to address these budget issues by passing the Mid-Level Funding Act, which aims to “provide adequate funding for communities and junior colleges in Mississippi.” This will be completed by providing funding for community colleges at a higher level than the K-12 schools but at a lower level than the regional colleges. The plan is to phase out mid-level funding within three years after the legislature passes the bill.

And then suffered a major recession. The Legislature has never funded community colleges with mid-level funding, Smith said. Community colleges stopped asking for it. The MCCB now adjusts its budget priorities to funding formula increase, workers’ programs, and salary increases.

“To be honest, we’ve never been successful in mid-level funding,” Smith said. “It seems to have become a very big question.”

According to the MCCB, the legislature will need to pay another $ 159 million to the community college system to meet mid-level funding this session. This includes the extra $ 64 million needed to bring the salaries of community college instructors to a midpoint between K-12 faculty and university faculty.

Jennifer Smith, librarian at Hind’s Community College, said: “We are also teachers and we feel that the government does not value us. We train people to go into the workforce, so what we do is develop our state. But our state does not reward us for helping the state.

After Smith completes her list of books, she makes truffles at a bakery for her second job. She said many of her colleagues are doing extra work, such as teaching extra classes at nearby universities, taking on custodial jobs, teaching students, or making instacart or Doordash deliveries.

Without these jobs, Smith said, “we can not really live.”

Last year, the Legislature approved adequate funding for community college staff for a 1 percent increase across the board. During Pickett’s nine years of teaching at MCC, she said it was the first time lawmakers had seen a board increase for community college staff.

Pickett, president of the Mississippi Association of Community College faculty, a group of lawyers, said he appreciates the money legislators have contributed to the fundraiser. They hope that one day lawmakers will show that they are “ready to invest.”

“We have one of the best (community college) systems in the country,” she said. “What will happen to the workers if we are not here anymore? To the large gap of students who need community colleges?

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