Wrangling over teacher pay dips into final days - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

LATEST: Full Legislature approves $1,000 across the board teacher pay raise

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UPDATE, 11:30 p.m. March 8:

The full Legislature approved a $1,000 across-the-board pay increase for teachers in West Virginia. The measure now goes to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for action.

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For those living in the Mountain State and in the teaching profession, it would appear their voices are beginning to be heard.

But the question remains of how loud those voices will be heard in the halls of the Capitol Complex as lawmakers shift proposals with an eye on a strained state budget.

During Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State Address that kicked off the legislative session in early January, teachers were promised a 2 percent pay raise.

Members of both the Senate and House of Delegates have since taken up proposed legislation that would fulfill Tomblin's promise, although the amount has remained in flux and may be tweaked before all is said and done.

Crunching the numbers

Because the pay raise plan has already changed a couple of times, so have the numbers involved.

Tomblin's promised 2 percent has jumped up to a $1,000 increase and back to 2 percent.

After it was amended and passed the Senate, the proposed bill was debated in the House Education Committee March 3, with the numbers standing at an $837 across-the-board pay increase for teachers and a 2 percent pay increase for service personnel.

But after debate in the House Education Committee, the pay raise was switched back to $1,000 by Democratic leaders.

Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, minority chairman of the committee, made an amendment to increase the raise to $15,000. Her amendment passed the committee by a vote of 16-6.

Those who voted in favor of the amendment expressed confidence that the increase in pay would benefit entry-level teachers just starting out, since those teachers typically start with lower salaries than West Virginia's surrounding states.

Those who voted against the amendment did so because they claimed it would be fiscally irresponsible.

After the vote on Pasdon's amendment, Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, moved to amend the bill to a $1,000 raise next year, a $2,000 raise the following year and a $3,000 raise the third year, plus a $100 month supplemental pay for service workers.

Walker's amendment passed on a voice vote.

From a little to a lot

So, when all was said and done, what started as an $837 raise became $6,000.

Some committee members said it was interesting that lawmakers who voted against the $1,500 pay raise because it was "fiscally irresponsible" voted for Walker's amendment that would equal $6,000 in three years as opposed to a flat $1,500 pay raise.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, offered an amendment to the proposed bill that would include locality pay. Locality pay, he said, would be based on the housing index and the cost of living.

By offering supplemental pay to offset and decrease cost of living expenses, Espinosa said, it would act as an incentive to attract younger and entry-level teachers to the Mountain State. Not only would it attract younger and entry level teachers, he said, but it would also help retain current teachers already living in the Mountain State.

His amendment was rejected.

The bill's next stop was the House Finance Committee.

Questions remain

The big question will be whether the committee accepts the increased numbers.

According to Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, it's not likely.

With an already tight budget and legislators scrambling to meet the constitutional obligation of passing a balanced budget, Butler said the $837 pay raise is the most likely scenario.

If the $6,000 raise over a three-year period were to be accepted, it would be projected to cost state taxpayers more than $225 million dollars.

As the final days of the legislative  session draw near, several things could happen with the teacher pay raise contained in the proposed legislation.

The final number could, in fact, be the $6,000 raise over a three-year period that came out of the House Education Committee. The number could be changed back to the Senate version of an $837 raise or it could be changed yet again to reflect the 2 percent across-the-board raise reflected in Tomblin's State of the State Address.

Regardless of the final outcome, continual progress has to be made, said Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association president.

Following Tomblin's state of the state address, Lee said any teacher pay raise must be a multi-year plan.

"I would hope that we would continue to look at this as a multi-year plan and know that this is a problem that can't be solved with a one-time 2 percent (raise) and then forget about it," he said. "That why we're in this position we're in now."

In the most extreme scenario, the bill could be scrapped all together.

If the bill dies, it would mean teachers go back to the drawing board to gear up for another push for teacher pay raises in the 2015 legislative session.