Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, but its education bureaucrats are some of the highest paid, pulling in six figures to run F-rated schools.
Mississippi’s superintendent of public education receives a $300,000 salary, higher than her counterparts in all 50 states, according to a new report from the Mississippi Center for Public Policy (MCPP). At least 30 Mississippi school superintendents enjoy salaries of $150,000 or higher, and at least two make more than $200,000.
Meanwhile, many of the schools they run are failing Mississippi students, exacerbated by long periods of remote-only learning this past school year due to the pandemic. Remote learning has hobbled the academic progress of students across the U.S., but especially in Mississippi, where half of students do not have a reliable internet connection at home — more than any other state.
Mississippi frequently ranks as having some of the worst schools in the nation in terms of both academic grades and student safety. While some school districts have performed better than others, even earning an “A” rating from the Mississippi education department, some of the districts that received the worst ratings have the highest-paid officials.
At least 20 school districts that have “C,” “D,” or “F” ratings are run by superintendents who make six figures, half of whom make $150,000 or more. Five of those districts were awarded an “F” rating.
The Holmes County Consolidated School District (HCCSD), which serves one of the poorest parts of Mississippi where the median household income is less than $22,000 a year, has an “F” rating from the state education department. The district’s superintendent makes $170,000 dollars a year.
By contrast, the Union Public School District, which has an “A” rating, pays its superintendent only $78,000.
The Holmes district has performed so poorly that the state may intervene. An audit last month by the Mississippi Board of Education found the district to be in violation of 26 of the 32 accreditation standards for Mississippi public school districts, jeopardizing the safety, security, and educational interests of students.
On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to request that Republican Governor Tate Reeves declare a state of emergency in the district. If Reeves makes the declaration, the current superintendent will be removed, a new interim superintendent appointed, and the current school board will be dissolved.
Some of the superintendent salaries are determined by the Mississippi state legislature, but many, including some of the largest salaries, were awarded to education officials by boards that have either minimal or no legislative oversight, according to the report.
The MCPP report found that capping school district superintendent pay below the governor’s salary would save Mississippi taxpayers $1.7 million a year, enough to pay for about 50 additional teachers.
“I think what it shows is that in certain school districts the education budget is spent in the interests of those on the payroll,” Douglas Carswell, president and CEO of the MCPP, told The Daily Wire.
“We’re so often told that the reason for poor education outcome in public schools in Mississippi is a consequence of there not being enough money. And worse than that, we’re actually made to feel we should somehow feel guilty, that taxpayers are not paying enough money, and that somehow as a consequence of this, they’re letting down a generation of kids who aren’t getting a good education,” he said.
“What this report strongly suggests is that that’s simply not true. It’s a lack of accountability that explains both inflated salaries and the poor education outcomes,” Carswell said.
Extremely high government salaries are also not confined to Mississippi’s public education officials, according to the report. Dozens of public officials in the state make more than the Mississippi governor, who has a salary of $122,160. The executive director of the public employees retirement system, for example, makes $179,000. The governor is not even one of the top fifty highest-paid officials in the state.
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