Letter to the editor

Dr. Carey Wright

Dear Editor: I read the recent editorials by Rep. Randy Boyd and saw they contained numerous inaccuracies. Therefore, I have contacted Rep. Boyd to correct the inaccuracies and am sharing this information with the Lee County Courier to correct the record. Although Rep. Boyd has not requested information from me about the number of employees and contract workers at the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), I am happy to provide your readers with those figures: • MDE employs 326 staff members in our Jackson offices, not 495 as Rep. Boyd wrote in his Oct. 2, 2020 editorial. I do not know where he got his figure. He may have been including the 117 teachers and staff who work at the Mississippi Schools for the Deaf and Blind and Mississippi’s 126 school attendance officers, who work in school districts throughout the state. While these two groups fall under the auspices of the MDE for administrative purposes, their work is separate and distinct from our agency operations. • MDE’s 326-member staff support the work of 150 school districts and charter schools, 75,661 teachers, principals, counselors, librarians, administrators and other school district employees, and 465,913 students. • MDE employs 72 contract workers, 68 of whom are state retirees. A small fraction of those state retirees are former MDE employees. Rep. Boyd’s editorial falsely said MDE has 325 contract workers. Rep. Boyd wrote that MDE should hire teachers as contract workers so they can earn extra money. The MDE does hire teachers as contract workers because their experience is invaluable. We contract with teachers to provide professional development, to create teaching resources, and for other special projects that draw on their expertise. Teachers may work on projects over the summer or during time outside their school schedules. As Rep. Boyd knows, the Legislature is in charge of determining the number of employees each state agency is allowed to hire. This is its way of controlling the size of the state workforce and the future financial burden on the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS). Like other state agencies, MDE adheres to the state laws that allow us to implement grant programs and hire contract workers to carry out essential functions and legislative mandates. For example, the Literacy-Based Promotion Act provides state funds for the MDE to hire literacy coaches. However, the law did not give MDE the authority to add new positions to the state’s workforce. Therefore, the MDE hired coaches in grant-funded positions. Our team of literacy coaches has helped Mississippi teachers learn the most effective way to teach reading, which in turn has made Mississippi the No. 1 state in the nation for gains in reading. Rep. Boyd wrote in his Sept. 18, 2020 editorial that MDE forced school districts to purchase computers from an MDE list of approved products and vendors. This is not true. Since the passage of the Equity in Distance Learning Act (SB 3044), the MDE has worked with districts to help them purchase computer devices for all students. The law provides $150 million to school districts to pay for computer devices for students and teachers, software to deliver instruction, enhanced internet connectivity and professional development for digital teaching and learning. Approximately 390,000 computer devices began arriving in Mississippi school districts in September. Districts chose to order 320,000 from the MDE vendor list required by law, and 70,000 through other means. Also in the Sept. 18 editorial, Rep. Boyd claimed the MDE did not “speak up” when the Legislature decided to move $27 million in funds from the School Recognition Program into the budget for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) because the Legislature’s decision “put more money in the MDE, rather than the classrooms of Mississippi.” This is false. The School Recognition Program and MAEP do not provide any money to MDE. Whichever way Rep. Boyd and his colleagues in the Legislature decide to allocate funds, those funds flow directly to school districts. Finally, Rep. Boyd’s Sept. 25, 2020 editorial claimed the MDE lacked oversight because a former employee was indicted for a crime. In fact, the MDE discovered and reported the alleged fraud to the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) in 2017. At the time of the discovery, we conducted an immediate, internal audit of all business transactions in which the former employee was involved and provided the audit results and all related records to the OSA. I have encouraged Rep. Boyd to contact me at any time if he would like accurate information or data from the MDE.

Carey M. Wright, Ed.D., is the State Superintendent of Education Wright can be contacted at 601-359-1750.

Randy Boyd’s response to Dr. Carey Wright

First of all, I did ask Superintendent Wright the question about the number of employees in the MDE Office Building in Jackson. It was during a combined meeting of the of the House and Senate Education Committees in the Capitol Building in the Old Supreme Court Room. I believe that is room #214. She has my phone number. I have not received a call. If she has sent me an email, I have not seen it. If I had not answered, it would seem right for MDE to called me. The facts on what I have said, I verified with the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office. It’s funny that I have received many thanks from teachers, and none of them indicated any knowledge of Teachers being given a contract from MDE. The Mississippi Office of State Auditor called out the fact of the MDE was requiring the District to purchase from the list provided by MDE. And, maybe I didn’t explain clear enough, MDE retracted that requirement at the last minute making it too late for local Districts to order from local suppliers. According to some of the local Superintendents, they were scared of not getting their reimbursement from MDE. So, they decided it was a must to order through MDE. If superintendent Wright desires, we can go back farther and look at times where plum contracts were handed out to people in MDE while they held positions in leadership. That person had a very high salary and a contract that made millions, according to reports. He has since had to leave MDE.

You may contact Randy Boyd 62-231-0133

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