Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, the chairman of the Mississippi House Appropriations Committee, says the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents "bit the hand that feeds them."
Photo by Imani Khayyam.
JACKSON Mississippi public-school districts can no longer use funds to pay their administrators' fees to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents without forfeiting their state funds. Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB 1643, an education appropriations bill, on May 17. The bill's sponsor, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, has made it clear that the legislation is a retaliatory response to the group's outspoken support of Initiative 42 last year. The initiative, opposed by Frierson, Bryant and other Republicans, would have required state lawmakers to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Act, but voters defeated it in November.
"When they attack people like that, they're biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that," Frierson said last Friday in an Associated Press story.
The AP reports that $650,000 of the group's $1.1-million revenue came from public funds. MASS Executive Director Sam Bounds says the organization, whose primary purpose is to offer continuing training for education administrators in the state, makes sure to spend its money in Mississippi. The group holds biannual conferences and brings in nationally recognized speakers and experts who help administrators keep up their certification.
"We keep our tax dollars home and put back into the economy in Mississippi," he said. Bounds anticipates the loss of money to have a huge impact on his organization's operations.
"It's going to be significant barrier that's for sure," Bounds said. "We're a private nonprofit. We try to make sure that we do not make a profit on anything. This is a situation that it could over time be extremely detrimental."
Bounds says his group was singled out. "Every public body I know needs additional training. The superintendents were singled out. But what about other organizations? Sheriffs' associations, supervisors' associations, school boards, legislative associations, circuit court associations—each individual association is responsible for managing and maintaining," he told the Jackson Free Press.
Frierson did not hide that the legislation was, at least in part, backlash. "They crossed the line in the 42 campaign when they called members of the leadership liars and attacked their integrity," Frierson said in the AP story. "There's very little trust between the leadership and school administrators and most of it goes back to the 42 campaign."
Bounds, a former superintendent with more than 42 years of school experience, says his focus is about fighting for children, not against legislators.
"Superintendents are the CEOs of a very large organization in their community," he said. "And their leadership and the effectiveness of their leadership can affect over 500,000 public-school students. Ninety-one percent of students in the state sit in public school classrooms. The future of our state sits in those classrooms, and if they don't have a future, the state doesn't have a future."
"We're hoping we can work with legislators to resolve the issue. Maybe this next legislation session we can work and continue to be the voice for those 500,000 public-school students out there," he said.
Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and The Hechinger Report. Email her at [email protected].