/Bill Waller tells teachers he’s ‘not happy’ about raise amount, vows to push for Southeastern average

Bill Waller tells teachers he’s ‘not happy’ about raise amount, vows to push for Southeastern average

Mississippi News Nonprofit HATTIESBURG: Republican candidate for governor Bill Waller Jr. met with Pine Belt teachers Wednesday afternoon for approximately two hours to listen to their concerns and answer questions about his plans for serving them as governor. Mississippi has more than 31,000 teachers. Many of them have taken to the internet in recent weeks to voice their dissatisfaction with the $1,500 raise approved by the state Legislature. They also discussed the possibility of striking. Waller, the former chief justice of Mississippi Supreme Court, spoke out in a town hall at the Movie Star Restaurant, Hattiesburg. He said that he was dissatisfied with the increase amount and supported increasing teacher pay to the Southeastern standard. Waller is running as a Republican for governor. He is facing Lt. Governor. In the primary, Tate Reeves will face state Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando). Waller stated that education and workforce development are priorities. “I will be clear and unambiguous in saying that I wasn’t happy with the $1,500 election year pay increase.” According to the Southern Regional Education Board, the average Southeastern salary was $51,000 during the 2015-16 school years. The average Mississippi teacher’s salary was $44,926 in 2017-18. Without any district supplement, a first-year teacher made $34,390. Many educators spoke passionately about their struggles in getting certified, the low salaries they receive, and the fact that lawmakers and politicians don’t listen to them. Amee Piland is a veteran teacher who teaches eighth grade English at Oak Grove Middle School, Hattiesburg. She said she came to ensure her voice was heard. Piland, a 15 year educator, said, “We need money desperately and I’ve heard others here in the area say we can’t just throw money at it, but I have never seen money put at education in this state,”. “I would love to vote Republican. At this point, I feel like I’m ready to vote different if there’s not a candidate willing to place education first as an issue.” Waller assured the crowd public education was a priority in his campaign. Waller explained to Mississippi Today that he was faced with the issue of teacher pay rises when deciding to run. “I felt like waiting for an election year was not a good idea and was not productive to have a high-quality professional teaching force.” “I said enough was enough, let’s work every year till we reach the Southeastern average,” Waller told Mississippi Today. While it is ultimately within the power of the Legislature to pass a raise, Waller stated that he expects to maintain a good working relationship to that body if he is elected governor. He said, “It’s also the job of the governor to provide leadership and set the goals.” “I am optimistic that we can work together, the Legislature, and the governor to find good solutions for education.” Teachers also asked Reeves where he stood on the issue vouchers. Reeves is one of Waller’s Republican challengers. He supports the Education Scholarship Account program, which uses public money to send special-needs students to private schools. Last month, he supported an increase of $2 million to the program. Waller stated that the program might be suitable in certain areas of the state, where there is no other option. However, “I think the larger issue is where are the funds being used to adequately fund education for special need children?” Waller stated that funding special education needs should be the priority because every child deserves a chance. “I believe the frustration is illustrated by the $2 million for private coupons, but the larger issue is the need to adequately fund special educational across the state using public money.”