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Education agencies drilled on personnel, budget by legislative groups

JACKSON, MISS– Budget meetings between legislative budget groups and state agencies continued Thursday with the state’s education agencies. 

The Mississippi Department of Education, Institute of Higher Learning, and the Mississippi Community and Junior Colleges Board were questioned by the bipartisan panel.

The path from Wednesday’s meetings was followed as attention turned to the benefits of being removed out from under the State Personnel Board.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has been the one to ask that question in all of the meetings.

The Mississippi Department of Education was allowed to come out from under the personnel board for two years starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

“Being able to come out from under allowed us to look at education reform at large and reorganize the department,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright.

Wright attributed flexibility as one of the main benefits of being out from under the board and said she was able to save money, become more efficient and attract employees of a higher quality and caliber the first year out from under the board.

Dr. Wright compared streamlining employees and utilizing their skills to seat placement on a bus.

“Do you have the right people on the bus and are they sitting on the right seat?” Dr. Wright asked. “Can they be moved elsewhere that utilizes their skill set?”

The second year was tougher, due to funding and employment dips, according to Dr. Wright. 

Coming out from under the state personnel board resulted in a 6 month “hiring on hold” process while the reorganization process was thought out. Some employees were sought to be hired, but the funding wasn’t there to pay them.

Dr. Wright said that while more money would allow for more employees, she feels there is no “drain” of resources with the current employees.

“We’re attracting people who are excited to work with us,” said Dr. Wright. “They see our initiatives and improvements and want to be a part of it.”

Still, Dr. Wright said more employees are needed.

There is currently no office of Early Childhood (Education), but Early Literacy passed the legislature. I need people in that office. ”

The Institution of Higher Learning was evaluated next by the board, and the focus was on retainment. IHL, the governing body over Mississippi’s public colleges and universities, has a turnover rate of 40-41 percent over 5 years.  Within the next five years, ten percent of IHL employees are eligible for retirement. 

IHL Commissioner Dr. Glenn Boyce said salary progression is one of the largest factors when holding on to faculty members.

“People want the ability to do effective research,” said Dr. Boyce. “Top professors at the research colleges come at much higher price.”

Regional and rural area schools have a harder time securing people, according to Dr. Boyce, because they have less students, limited programs, and not as much access to research. Other states offer higher salaries for professors, which is another cause of lost employment, said Boyce.

“We only pay around 80 percent of Southern Regional Educational Board faculty pay recommendations,” Boyce said. “And people don’t mind moving in higher education. They’ll change states.”

Research professors are often given grants, which according to Boyce has become a bargaining chip in the past. Professors will negotiate for higher pay elsewhere, taking the grant with them.

“Sometimes those grants total $20 million dollars,” said Boyce. “And that money goes with that professor when they leave to go research at another facility. So support is needed for top professors with grants to secure those grants to the university and to the state.”

One of the bigger expenses identified within the personnel of IHL was the high turnover rate among those working in student services and administration at the colleges.

“Those who work in registration, admissions, financial aid,” said Dr. Boyce. “They’re the busiest. And often we get younger people in there who are ambitious, want to work hard and be promoted, and then they leave for better opportunities elsewhere.”

Dr. Boyce added that flexibility to promote from within and cross-training would alleviate some of the high turnover rates and the associated expenses. Overall, Boyce told the panel he was satisfied with the number of employees within the public university and college system.

“We have a 16:1 faculty/student ratio,” said Dr. Boyce. “out of 5,899 faculty members, 1,227 are adjunct.”

Even with the implementation of online and distance learning degree programs, Dr. Boyce said the workforce had not diminished greatly.

“We still need the manpower to teach those classes,” said Boyce.

The Mississippi Board of Community Colleges met with legislative budget groups regarding personnel Thursday. While the turnover rate is one of the lowest of the state agencies, the career-technical programs at the community college level have suffered turnover, according to Director Dr. Andrea Mayfield.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is bringing in those who work in career and tech programs,” said Mayfield. “They often leave for private sector jobs over teaching, because they can make so much more. Hard to teach students to go into high-paying technical jobs when you can’t recruit the teachers to teach them. We can’t pay enough to bring them in.” 

Mayfield said the job is getting done with what funding has been appropriated, but there are still struggles with recruiting career-tech instructors. Career-tech programs have much higher costs to the colleges over academic programs, but the career-tech programs are in higher demand.

There are 6,100 full time employees within the community colleges with 2,300 of them teaching. 3,700 are non -teachers. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn pointed out that  means 61 percent of appropriated funds goes to non-teaching jobs.

“IHL may have the same percentage, but they don’t say they’re struggling,” said Gunn. “If we change just or two percent of those numbers, we could find money. I’d like to see that money changed from non-instruction to instruction. We want to get as much money as possible into the classrooms.” 

Mayfield argued that the costs were related to instruction, even if they were not directed to the teachers.


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