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Teachers: Pay Increase Needed to Make Ends Meet

February 28, 1985

MOUNT OLIVE, Miss. (AP) _ Linda McInnis says there’s not much difference between flirting with financial ruin every day on the picket line or working in the classroom for $167 a week take-home pay, so she’s ″not turning around.″

Ms. McInnis, who said she must have help from her parents to pay her bills and raise a small child, is willing to give up her pay in the bid to raise Mississippi teachers’ salaries, now the lowest in the nation.

And W.J. Kennedy, an agriculture teacher of 14 years whose wife has to work to supplement his monthly take-home pay of just under $1,200, agrees.

″We want people to understand that we are not on strike because we want to be,″ said Kennedy. ″We’re on strike because we have no other choice.″

An estimated 1,500 teachers walked picket lines Wednesday in a widening strike as the state House approved a pay-raise measure for the educators, who now make an average of $15,971 a year.

School officials say as many as 3,400 of the state’s 26,000 teachers would be off the job today, affecting up to 56,500 students.

″We walked because we realized somebody has to do something,″ said Kennedy. ″If you’re not willing to stand up for youself, no one else will be willing to do it for you.″

He and Ms. McInnis, a special-education teacher, said a one-time, $2,500 pay raise approved Wednesday by the state House and an earlier state Senate version providing $4,150 over three years were unacceptable. Teachers are demanding a $7,000 raise.

″As a Mississippi public school teacher I earn exactly $11,575 a year and I take home $673 a month,″ said Ms. McInnis, who wore the black plastic headband teachers have adopted as a show of unity.

″To realize my situation, you must understand that my car note and insurance take half of my salary every month and my child and I try to live on the rest,″ she said. ″I made my decision. I walked out and I’m not turning around.″

The teachers set up their headquarters in a vacant garage across the street from the aging, red-brick school in this southern Mississippi town of 1,000. They were joined by supportive parents of some of the 600 students.

″I have a 13-year-old child who needs to be in school, but I’m out here with these teachers because I want them to know I feel parents have a responsibility to support them,″ said Marcia Dickens. ″We had some upset parents at first but most now support what the teachers are doing.

″Mount Olive is a town of mostly retired people and our school provides jobs for about half of the young people we do have here. We are losing our teachers and without them, our little town will fold.″

Kennedy said the two factors that drove teachers to strike were Gov. Bill Allain’s insistence that a raise be limited to $1,500 and lawmakers increasing their own salaries by about $1,900 plus fringe benefits.

″We want to be back in our classrooms but we are determined not to go back until our Legislature gets concerned and passes a bill providing a reasonable salary increase,″ he said.

The strikes are defying a 10-day temporary restraining order and the advice of the Mississippi Association of Educators, the state’s largest teacher union with 13,000 members.

A spokesman for the association, George Brown, said that although the union had urged locals not to strike, ″As long as the local boards sympathize with the strikers, we will allow them to do it.″

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