District considers longer hours for assistant teachers

VANCLEAVE, Miss. (AP) — Assistant teachers in Mississippi will receive a $2,000 pay raise starting July 1, but one school district could make its assistants work a longer schedule.

A proposal awaiting consideration by the Jackson County School Board would extend assistant teachers’ work from 180 days a year to 187, the Sun Herald reported.

Two Gulf Coast legislators and state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright condemned the proposal, saying it diminishes the raise. Assistant teachers are paid on an hourly basis, and if the proposal is approved, those in Jackson County would have to work more hours to receive the money.

“No one would dream you would need to put something in the law to prevent this,” House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, a Republican from Long Beach, told the newspaper.

Bennett said teachers’ assistants are “the most underpaid, underappreciated people in this system. This is an insult to those aides.”

During their session earlier this year, Mississippi legislators approved pay raises for teachers and assistant teachers. The assistants’ base pay from the state is now $15,000 and it will go to $17,000. Some school districts supplement the salaries.

Jackson County Superintendent John Strycker said in a news release Thursday that the $2,000 raise will bring the salary for the district’s assistant teachers to $19,800. He said $1,250 of the raise would go toward increasing the hourly rate of pay and $750 would go toward compensating for the additional seven working days.

“The school district’s intention of increasing teacher assistants to 187 days was to align their work schedules with teachers,” Strycker said.

Strycker says the school board could consider the plan in June — and he does not expect it to be approved.

Rep. Manly Barton of Moss Point, whose district includes part of Jackson County, said it was “totally inappropriate” of Strycker to suggest extending the assistant teachers’ hours.

Wright also took issue with the proposed change.

“Mississippi educators have been underpaid for quite some time, and our state Legislature responded to that problem this year by passing an historic teacher pay raise bill,” the state superintendent said in a statement.

Assistant teachers work in elementary school classrooms to support teachers. They are paid significantly less than teachers and are not required to have a college degree.

In Jackson County, assistant teachers are paid an hourly wage that varies according to experience, ranging from $12.36 for a new employee to $20.95 for one with 35 years’ experience

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