Amidst national coverage, a strike, and failed negotiations, last week Governor Justice signed a two percent pay raise for next school year, and subsequent one percent raises for the next two years.
Health insurance premiums and rates through the Public Employees Agency were frozen through next year. The legislation passed by the House transferred $29 million to freeze the rates.
There is concern over rate increases after they are unfrozen, and whether an increase in rates will nullify pay raises. West Virginia ranks 48th in teacher salary. The state average is $45,622, while the national average is $58,353.
Tucker County Board of Education President Tim Turner commented, “I would like to see our teachers have a competitive pay raise, and at the forefront would be to find a stable course for PEIA or an alternative health program for all public employees.”
The state’s teacher union voted to authorize a statewide work stoppage for teachers and service personnel. All 55 counties throughout the state opted to cancel school, because of the significant number of staff that voted in favor of a work stoppage.
While discussions developed and then dissolved at the state level between legislators and teachers, a strike seemed imminent. “The teachers and our union leadership here have been really open with me. And they have promised me they that they would give us plenty of notice so that we could cancel school,” Tucker County Superintendent Campbell said.
Angie Kisamore Evans is the president of the Tucker County Education Association. She teaches eighth grade English Language Arts at Tucker Valley Elementary School.
“Our goal for the walkout is to help legislators see we need a long-term commitment to make education a priority in West Virginia,” Kisamore Evans said. “West Virginia teachers and service personnel are leading this charge, the union is our collective voice.”
One aspect of teachers’ rallying cry is the struggle to keep qualified teachers in West Virginia. “In order to retain highly qualified educators, we must take the necessary steps to compensate teachers accordingly,” Kisamore Evans said.
In Tucker County, Board President Turner recently noticed a struggle to find teachers to fill positions. “We were not able to fill out CTE math position at the high school for the entire school year. Often we were not able to fill a part of a half science position at Davis Thomas. I would say this is the first time in Tucker County school system that they could not hire the positions,” Turner said.
Ire was directed at the teachers for leaving schools empty and thus forcing students home. “No one wanted it to get to this point, this was a last resort,” Kisamore Evans said.
There was also concern about students getting enough to eat during the work stoppage, because some students depend on a school lunch. Through Tucker County’s Backpack program, students received extra food to last them through the weekend. Lunch was also provided at Kidwell Auto Parts on Friday for any Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School students.
During the work stoppage, teachers and service personnel gathered in Charleston to protest the state’s management of wages and benefits. Those in attendance estimated the number of those gathered in Charleston to be upwards of 10,000.
At last week’s Tucker County Board of Education meeting, a resolution was read and approved that supports a pay increase and rejects an increase in employee contributions to PEIA. The resolution read, “The Tucker County Board of Education urges, immediate passage of legislation addressing these critically important issues facing our teachers and staff.”
A majority of county education boards throughout the state drafted and adopted similar resolutions.
The work stoppage may affect the rest of the schools’ calendar for the rest of the year. “We have been told that any days lost due to the work stoppage are to be made up on available out of calendar school days, so we would look at our calendar then and target those days,” Superintendent Campbell said at the Board of Education meeting.