Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on a teacher pay calculation error:
A calculation error has created a shortfall in the amount of money appropriated by lawmakers to fund the $1,500 teacher pay raise passed earlier this year.
When legislative officials asked the Mississippi Department of Education to calculate the cost of the raise, the department undershot the total number of teachers it should include, resulting in not enough money being set aside. The exact number of teachers omitted and the total amount of the shortfall is still being determined, as reported by Mississippi Today. Some estimates have set it as high as $15 million.
Now, the question becomes how to fix it so that the pay raise reaches all of the state’s teachers. And school districts - which have already suffered numerous funding cuts - can’t be expected to make up the difference.
In a press release sent last week, State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said local school districts “will be allocated enough money through the current appropriation to cover the monthly cost of the teacher pay raise.” Meanwhile, both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have suggested lawmakers can provide additional funds through a deficit appropriation during the 2020 session, which starts in early January.
We believe the fix needs to be more immediate. Waiting until January - especially during an election year - is a patchwork solution that creates too much uncertainty.
Lawmakers can easily re-appropriate the amount of money needed to cover the shortfall. However, Bryant has said he doesn’t want to call a special session at taxpayers’ expense. Here’s another idea - have lawmakers agree to voluntarily return to Jackson without receiving any reimbursement from the state.
What better way to demonstrate true public service and make a statement about the importance of education in Mississippi than to have lawmakers help the state’s teachers on their own dime. Doing so shouldn’t require more than an hour of work, plus commute time to and from Jackson.
Wright blamed the error on an old computer system the department uses to store information. In trying to exclude positions that are funded by federal dollars, the system also missed numerous state-funded teachers, including some special education, career technical education and gifted teachers, as well as a number of assistant teachers. The error was discovered when local superintendents realized they were not given enough money to cover the raise for all of their teachers, as reported by Mississippi Today.
Wright has said the computer system is old and unreliable, but given that knowledge, the department should have had better safeguards in place to confirm its numbers. Meanwhile, legislative leaders also should have exercised more caution in making sure every “t″ was crossed in passing the pay raise.
It’s a significant blunder, and there must be accountability. Officials need to take a hard look in the mirror to avoid a repeat mistake.
The more immediate need, however, is finding a prompt resolution.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on politician being ordered to repay salary:
For more than 40 years, Holmes County politico Eddie Carthan has played the racial victimization card. He has repeatedly claimed that he was framed by authorities because he challenged the white power structure in the predominantly black county. He said all the charges against him over the years have been bogus, including the two crimes — one state, one federal — for which he was convicted.
He will play the victimization card again with the demand of State Auditor Shad White that Carthan repay more than $184,000 he has drawn in salary over the past 3½ years as a Holmes County supervisor.
Carthan told a Jackson reporter that he was “surprised and shocked” to receive the demand letter last month from White.
He shouldn’t have been.
Carthan is serving in an office that he won illegally, according to not just White but the Attorney General’s Office, which forwarded the case to the state auditor for pursuit. Under Mississippi law, Carthan should have been disqualified from running for supervisor in 2015 had he accurately completed the qualifying paperwork. It asks whether a candidate has been convicted of a disqualifying felony, to which Carthan incorrectly answered no, according to the state auditor.
Whether the error was intentional or accidental, it doesn’t matter. The correct answer was “yes,” as Carthan was convicted almost 40 years ago of assaulting a police officer. Even though he served less than a year of the three-year sentence for that crime, the conviction apparently has never been expunged.
Had the Holmes County election commissioners had the correct information at the time Carthan qualified in 2015, they would have had to either reject his candidacy or risk being responsible for the salary he drew after winning the election.
As it stands, only Carthan is on the hook, as he was both responsible for the illegal expenditure of public funds and the recipient of those funds.
The authorities should pursue him until he pays the money back
The Daily Leader on measles vaccinations:
Despite a scare, health officials said Friday that no one in Mississippi was infected after a traveler with measles visited the state last month.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said that a follow-up investigation found no exposures from the traveler, who visited multiple restaurants in Hattiesburg between April 9 and April 11, The Associated Press reported.
Mississippi has not reported any cases of measles despite the biggest nationwide measles outbreak since 1994. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 704 cases have been reported in 22 states.
The reason Mississippi has dodged the virus is due to its strict child vaccination laws. Almost 100 percent of school-aged children in the state have received measles vaccinations. Some, however, would like the state to relax those requirements.
Some states have been softer when it comes to requiring vaccinations, and they now have measles to show for it.
Mississippi does not often find itself at the top of many “good” lists, but child vaccinations is one of them. Let’s keep it that way.
While we understand the reluctance of some parents when it comes to immunizations, we don’t understand the desire to leave children unprotected from a preventable disease. The science is established on the measles vaccine. It is safe, effective and has been around for 50 years.
Measles is one of the most contagious respiratory diseases in the world and has the potential to be life-threatening. It is caused by a virus and is still common in many countries, according to the CDC.
According to the CDC, before the U.S. measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 million to 4 million people nationwide got measles each year. Of those, 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis because of measles.
The virus is serious, and is particularly harmful to those who are not vaccinated, including children who are too young to get the vaccine. The virus can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected person leaves a location.
We encourage lawmakers and parents to do their part to keep Mississippians safe from this disease.