West Virginia teachers have been promised another 5-percent pay raise, but it appears there may be some strings attached.
From the balconies of the Senate galleries, to the halls of the capitol, dozens of teachers came to lobby the Legislature on Monday.
They are supporting another 5-percent pay raise and a once-and-for-all fix to increased costs to their health insurance program.
“We want a fix,” said Kanawha County teacker Lucinda Burns. “PEIA needs to be fixed. Not just frozen, but fixed.”
Last year teachers had a statewide nine-day strike, leading to a 5-percent pay hike for all state workers.
An education blll in the Senate would give another 5-percent pay raise, but a lot of controversial education reforms are also in the bill, including possible charter schools and letting counties decide on teacher seniority.
“There’s a lot of things in this bill and it includes some school choice initiatives that the Senate considers important, but it’s mostly been crafted with the input that we get from the superintendent, the counties and the teachers who have contacted us and asked what they would like to see,” explained Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) who is Chair of the Education Committee.
Many Democrats and union leaders are opposed to the Senates all-encompassing education bill.
“If you are forcing people to vote on a pay raise based on all the other bad stuff in it, that’s not fair,” said Dale Lee with the West Virginia Education Assocationn. “If these are truly inovative ideas for education, let them stand on their own merit.”
“My fear is that, especially on the Senate side, is there going to try to tie some bad things like getting rid of seniority, some things like that, to that pay raise and that’s what concerns me,” added Delegate Robert Thompson (D-Wayne).
Teachers said if such a bill were to pass, they could walk of the job and come back to the Capitol in protest.
There was talk that the House may craft a much different education bill, but whatever the Legislature passes, must be the same language in both the House and Senate bills.
According to the National Education Association, before last year’s pay raise, West Virginia had the third-lowest paid teachers in the nation. Only teachers in Oklahoma and Mississippi had lower wages.