MDE’s latest error continues a trend with agency

By Steve Wilson
April 29, 2019

The Mississippi Department of Education admitted a major error last week when it miscalculated the number of teachers eligible for a $1,500 raise passed this session by the legislature.

This isn’t the first time the agency has made a major error, as it has a history of fiscal issues and mismanagement.

MDE said in a news release that it calculated the number of positions based on the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS) that had only teachers and teacher assistants whose salaries were paid by funds from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The agency later discovered additional teachers eligible for the raise who weren’t in the MSIS system as funded by MAEP.

The difference is considerable. The $1,500 raise bill passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant will cost $58 million per year. Giving the additional teachers a $1,500 raise will cost anywhere from $12 million to $14 million in additional spending, which the legislature could fix with a deficit appropriation that wouldn’t require a special session.

Considering the pay given to the state’s superintendent of education and the number of employees at MDE, the mistake looms even larger.

Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright is the nation’s highest paid leader of a state school system and makes $307,000 per year, which is more than the salaries of Mississippi’s governor ($122,160 per year), lieutenant governor ($60,000) and secretary of state ($90,000) combined. The state superintendent’s salary was set in 2008 and Wright was hired by the state Board of Education in 2013 and.

According to the fiscal 2020 appropriation from the legislature, MDE has 550 employees statewide, with most working at the Jackson headquarters at the old Central High School building. 

The agency will cost taxpayers $181,761,535 in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

MDE has been dogged by issues with fiscal management in recent years.

In August 2016, MDE fired three employees who contributed to a $19.1 million shortfall in the federal grant program designed to establish community learning centers for after-school enrichment for low-income communities.

The problem was MDE’s Office of Federal Programs issued 46 grants without accounting for the 65 already receiving the funds under the 21stCentury Community Learning Centers. 

MDE tried to reallocate funds from another federal program that sends money to help children from low-income households meet state standards. They announced in 2017 that the deficit was later reduced to $7.6 million and the funds were later restored to districts that requested.

MDE has also had problems with contracts for information technology and other services from 2014 to 2016 as spotlighted by a report by the state auditor’s office. 

The report accused the agency of circumventing state procurement laws and wasting taxpayer funds with duplicative service contracts, many of which were given to former Wright associates from her time at the Montgomery County (Maryland) school district in suburban Washington, D.C.


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