Gov. Bill Allain on Monday vetoed a bill that would have given a $4,400 pay raise to the nation's lowest-paid teachers over the next three years, while the state's largest teachers' group called for members to end wildcat walkouts.
Allain, by vetoing the measure, sends it back to the Legislature, which could either come up with a new proposal or attempt to override the governor's action.
The bill called for a tax increase to fund a $2,400 raise this year and $1,000 in each of the next two years. The average yearly pay for Mississippi teachers is $15,971.
"It really comes down to . . . whether the Legislature wants to fund all programs and give teachers a salary increase and the highway department $30 million," Allain said at a news conference.
He said that a tax increase would be "detrimental to the people" and would drive away new industry. He urged a $1,500 pay raise, saying that the state could not afford higher taxes.
Meanwhile, Chancery Court Judge Paul G. Alexander ordered two-day suspended sentences for the president of the Mississippi Assn. of Educators and 17 other union officials.
The judge earlier ruled the group in contempt for calling a strike Monday and last Wednesday, in defiance of his ban against walkouts.
Allain's veto came only two hours after the MAE had asked its 13,000 members to end their walkouts.
Most Schools Open
The group said that only 18 of the state's 154 districts--mostly in southern Mississippi--closed or curtailed classes Monday.
The scattered walkouts had idled 96,000 of the state's 466,000 students and 4,200 of the state's 27,000 teachers. At the height of the strike, which began on Feb. 25, 9,000 teachers and 170,000 pupils were out of class.
"It is the position of the MAE board of directors that continuing the job action at this time will only hurt those dedicated teachers participating, and recommends that all teachers be in their classrooms on Tuesday morning (today)," MAE President Alice Harden said at a news conference.
Punitive Action Seen
She said that further strikes would only result in "severe punitive actions" against teachers, and hailed the walkouts as ones that "altered the course of Mississippi legislation and politics forever."
Harden said that directors of the MAE would meet again with Allain but declined to say what the MAE might do. She did not rule out another strike as "an option to consider."
The veto was not a surprise. Allain had indicated that he would not sign any bill that included a tax hike, and the vetoed measure would have raised taxes by $77.6 million.
Alexander, at the court hearing, said: "I don't want to put anybody in jail. I don't want to punish anybody. I just want them to comply with the court order. I just can't put up with it anymore."
Told to Stay in Class
However, Patricia Hancock, an MAE attorney, told the judge that the union, after issuing the general strike call, contacted teachers in the 15 districts under the court order and encouraged them to remain in the classroom.
Teachers sought two $3,500 raises to increase their salaries to the Southeastern average.
The union objected to a provision in the vetoed bill specifying that, effective May 1, any fired teacher could not be rehired without going before a Chancery Court judge, who would have to find a "public necessity" before bringing the teacher back into the classroom.