Retired Supterintendent Is Still on the Job

Back to March 2015 Ed Reporter

Retired Supterintendent Is Still on the Job

Billy Joe Ferguson decided to take underfunding of the Carroll County School District into his own hands, or his own pocketbook. He retired two years ago but remains on the job as the district superintendent of schools, drawing only his $18,000 a year retirement pension; the difference between that and his previous salary of $87,000 funnels back into schools to help overcome what he calls serious underfunding by the state of Mississippi.

school busSuperintendent Ferguson began teaching in Carroll County in 1969. He’s in his fourth term as superintendent and works at least 40 hours a week. He doesn’t charge travel expenses and has no secretary.

In an open letter to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Ferguson says his district is chronically underfunded and operates under “wretched conditions.” The district covers 635 square miles and consists of one high school, one middle school, and one elementary school that together educate 1,009 students. The student poverty rate is roughly 90%.

Bus transportation is a major hurdle for Carroll County. The student population depends on 20 buses, ten of which are fifteen years old, running eighteen bus routes. Some of the bus routes are on dirt roads.

Ferguson says the “newest building at the elementary school was constructed in 1956 and has a 23-year-old roof.” When the district lost ten employees last year, Ferguson replaced them with individuals who were willing to work for less than those they replaced.

What Gets Funded

Mississippi legislators have been unsuccessful in ditching Common Core standards. “Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn — all Republicans — have expressed displeasure with Mississippi’s use of Common Core academic standards. However, with an independent state superintendent of education and Board of Education, it’s unclear how much influence the Legislature will have on repealing or revising the standards.” (Hattiesburg American, 1-4-15)

Teaching Common Core standards has a huge financial impact on schools. They must spend to re-train teachers and must replace textbooks with those aligned to Common Core. In his letter to the governor, Ferguson stated: “We do not have enough money to fully upgrade textbooks.” In some cases they are making do with printouts from the internet.

One huge expense was averted when Mississippi withdrew from the PARCC Common Core testing consortium. (Clarion-Ledger, 1-16-15) The state will now “seek competitive, multi-year bids.”

But Gov. Bryant has committed $3 million to pay for early childhood education programs. In an interview with the Associated Press, Bryant laments that Mississippi can’t afford a statewide pre-kindergarten program. He doesn’t seem to have a high regard for parents’ care for their preschool children when he states: “We just don’t need to set ’em in front of a television and feed ’em Froot Loops.”

The millions of dollars spent on the failed Head Start model of early childhood education would go a long way to helping districts like Carroll County.

Gov. Bryant also makes another blooper in his interview with the Associated Press. The reporter says: “People also wonder: Who’s going to make money off charter schools?” Bryant replies: “If there is money to be made in charter schools, I haven’t figured out how that happens.” Gov. Bryant needs to read the article in this issue of Education Reporter about the North Carolina businessman who is doing just that.

The Hechinger Report says that in November of 2016, Mississippians will have a chance to vote on “a potential amendment to the constitution that would require the state to provide an ‘adequate and efficient system of free public schools.’” (2-2-15)

Ferguson’s letter to the governor reveals a ludicrous situation that could occur. He says state law mandates that if his district fails, the governor “will hire a $200,000 conservator to come and resurrect us!”