Supporters of an education funding initiative known as Initiative 42 are calling for an investigation, after a community college president used a work email to urge colleagues to oppose the proposal.
Jones County Junior College president Jesse Smith is coming under fire for an email he sent to fellow community college presidents last week, encouraging them to support a political committee dedicated to defeating Initiative 42.
Under Mississippi law, employees like Smith are prohibited from using state resources and time to advocate for or against political causes.
Smith says he’s already been reprimanded for the email and that he won’t do it again. However, he stands by his decision to oppose the initiative.
“It’s just the letter of the language of taking the power from the people and putting it in the hands of a chancery judge, that’s scary,” says Smith. “Secondly, there is no question, if this passes, for Jones Junior College in order to maintain the same budget level that we’re at now it would mean that we would have to lay off about 15 people and raise tuition 42 percent the following semester.
Supporters of the initiative are refuting Smith’s claim that the amendment would have serious ramifications on the state’s budget. Rana Mitchell is an assistant superintendent of Carroll County Schools. She says Smith’s email is part of a concerted effort to misinform the public.
“To have some officials really, really fight against us trying to get off the bottom is bizarre to me,” Mitchell says. “Why are our state leaders fighting so hard, fighting parents, fighting educators in order to not provide an adequate level of funding?”
Voters will decide the fate of the education funding proposal in November.