/Ed Dept retiree contracts draw fire

Ed Dept retiree contracts draw fire

Tuesday’s concerns raised by legislative leaders about the Mississippi Department of Education’s contracting with 114 former employees. They suggested that the practice could be called “double dipping.” Tate Reeves stated that many constituents are concerned about the practice of ex-state employees returning to the agency to work under contracts because they have “very generous retirement plans.” Reeves (R-Florence) said, “There are many people who view that as… taking advantage the system.” Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), the House Speaker, also asked Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education, if the department was employing former educators who have not performed well. Gunn stated, “Hiring consultants or independent contractors who were in education who were in a position where they failed to perform — such as a superintendent in a failing district who was then hired back again as a consultant.” Gunn said, “I don’t understand that.” It’s not clear if Gunn’s example was actual or hypothetical. Meg Annison, Gunn’s spokeswoman, did not respond to the question on Tuesday. This feedback was received during the most recent in a series budget working group hearings that were held by the Legislature. These groups will be assessing 13 state agencies’ budgets and examining the state’s tax structure. According to Tuesday’s information, the department presented data to lawmakers that showed $35.3 million was spent on independent contracts in fiscal 2013. The vast majority, $27.6million, was spent on personal service contracts that were awarded via the request for proposals (RFP). The $2.9 million remaining was used to hire a wide variety of contract workers. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, told the group that four of 16 requests for proposals issued by the department last fiscal year were made to Mississippi companies. Only two Mississippi companies submitted proposals to the 12 other requests for proposals. Credell Calhoun (D-Jackson) asked Wright why there were so few Mississippi bids. “I don’t know why this is. Wright stated that it is possible that there are not companies capable of providing such services. She also said she wasn’t aware of any state-based company that could provide a statewide assessment. Gunn also asked Wright if there were contracts that Wright didn’t consider to be effective. These contracts include assessments, conservators, and the ACT which is now available to all juniors. Wright stated that all the necessary contracts are required, but the department is considering changing its conservatorship model as it “isn’t working” right now. When local officials fail to meet state standards, conservators manage a school district.