CHARLESTON, W.Va.- (WTAP) UPDATE: 2/13/2018, 3:18 P.M.
A bill to give pay raises to teachers, school service personnel and West Virginia State Police is headed back to the Senate for approval.
On Tuesday, the West Virginia House passed Senate Bill 267 with a committee amendment with a 98-1 vote. One delegate was absent.
The amended bill would give teachers a pay raise of 2% the first year and 1% each of the following three years.
State Police and school service personnel would get a 2% raise the first year and 1% the second year.
This would give teachers a raise of $808 the first year and about $2000 total over the four years.
State Police would be given a raise of $864 in the first year.
Several Democratic Delegates expressed their disappointment in the low pay raise amount. They introduced an amendment Monday to give teachers a nine percent total raise but that was shot down.
Republican John Kelly (Wood, 10) said before voting that if revenue is expected to grow over the next few years he would like to see the body readdress the pay raise amounts.
The bill will have to go back to the Senate to approve the amendment made by the House Finance committee. If the Senate approves the bill then Governor Justice must also sign off on it.
If completely passed, the bill would be made effective July 1, 2018.
UPDATE: 2/13/2018, 12:00 P.M. -
As a school guidance counselor in West Virginia, Chelena McCoy says skyrocketing insurance premiums are the reason she's begging her son to start his own teaching career elsewhere.
"I will not encourage him to come to West Virginia and be an educator," McCoy said.
She was one of dozens of state employees who made their concerns heard Monday about insurance rates at a packed meeting with the PEIA Finance Board at the University of Charleston.
"Teachers...qualify for assistance and you wanna raise their premium?" AFT-Boone County President Carrena Rouse said. "I am heartbroken that our state is at this point."
"We have to do something different," AFT-West Virginia President Christine Campbell said. "We have to have a long-term funding stream."
Teachers and their union representatives suggested injecting revenue from new taxes to supplement PEIA costs. But, with the legislative session more than halfway over, these types of solutions can't be implemented until the next years rate structure is put in place according to PEIA Director Ted Cheatham.
"I feel for them," Cheatham said. "I know they're in a tough bind in some cases and we're trying to find ways to help."
Governor Jim Justice is encouraging lawmakers to freeze current PEIA rates for 17 months to make time to find a permanent solution.
"We can't wait 17 months for a long-term fix," Campbell said. "A freeze is not a fix."
The PEIA Finance Board will hold two additional public hearings this week in Charleston: one on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 6:00 P.M. and another on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 6:00 P.M.
UPDATE: 02/12/18 4:45 P.M.
The Presidents of the American Federal of Teachers of West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association say a strike by the state's teachers is imminent.
They say it's not a matter of if, but when it will happen.
WVEA President Dale Lee says teachers statewide are "ready to pull the trigger." He says they "have overwhelming support across the state."
This will be statewide action, officials say.
That was the sentiment during the joint news conference Monday in which the unions' leaders discussed a statewide meeting of county leaders that was held on Sunday in Flatwoods in Braxton County.
Monday afternoon's news conference happened at the same time the House of Delegates was debating salaries of teachers and other state workers at the state capitol.
All this comes after weeks of rallies with teachers over salaries and health benefits for the state's public employees.
We'll have more on this story online as it develops on WTAP News @ 5 and 6.
The West Virginia Educators Association and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers have been given the authorization to take action on behalf of state teachers and school service personnel.
State teachers voted throughout the last week on whether to give the unions the authority to act on their behalf.
Representatives from all 55 counties met with organization leaders on Sunday in Flatwoods, where authorization was officially granted.
WVEA and AFT leaders say that while the authorization has been granted, they are not ready to use that right yet.
UPDATE: 2/10/18 6:30 PM
A meeting held at Jackson Middle School enabled teachers and public employees to discuss major concerns with the recent PEIA freeze.
Bruce Boston, President of Wood County Education Association, explained, "We are meeting today with our employees along with any other members of the public that wanted to come out to find out why it is that the teachers are upset, why it is the public employees are upset over proposed legislation and lack of salary increase and issues with PEIA.”
A joint effort between the Wood County Education Association and the Wood County American Federation of Teachers helped put the meeting together, not only for teachers but for anyone in the public.
Boston says, “But we aren't just asking for just the public school teachers and school personnel, we are out here for all state employees; state troopers, department of highway workers, social workers. They all need to see a realistic increase in salary."
Several politicians including Delegate John Kelly answered questions and explained what the House hopes the freeze will do.
Delegate John Kelly tells the audience, “We can’t just flip a switch and turn everything around. It just doesn’t happen that way. We can try to go in and find those problems and fix them and take the actions that we need to do. But we have got to have the time to study it.”
But the PEIA wasn’t the only concern. Salaries and percent raises were also discussed between legislators and the attendees.
A public employee that attended states to the politicians, “When you talked about the 5% raise over five years, when inflation is running 2% a year, you are actually cutting these teachers’ pay.”
UPDATE 2/8/18 2:15 P.M.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has announced a 17-month freeze on Public Employees Insurance Agency plans, stalling proposed changes -- until lawmakers can come up with a permanent fix.
Justice, speaking Thursday during a news conference from the Capitol, says the PEIA board has to approve the freeze.
"We are seeing a miracle happen," Justice said, saying "all of us are for the teachers -- Democrats and Republicans."
Justice said he listened closely to educators' and other state employees' concerns.
‘’This is a happy day. This is a happy day. All government employees need to breathe easy,’’ the governor said.
We'll have complete coverage on WTAP News @ 5 and 6 and online as this story develops.
2/7/2018 6:30 P.M.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and legislative leaders Tuesday said PEIA premiums and guidelines will remain the same through the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July.
That, while a solution is sought to the agency's financial issues that partly resulted in proposed changes that have been criticized during the current legislative session, by teachers and state employees.
Local lawmakers say the issue is likely to be discussed in the legislative interim sessions that take place during the summer.
Sen. Donna Boley says a hurdle to funding the program involves a long-standing rule.
"We have the 80/20 rule, which says if the legislature puts in any money, the premiums to the employees have to increase," the Pleasants County Republican said Wednesday. "And I wouldn't be surprised to see that law reviewed, and maybe changed."
Teachers, in particular, have argued the proposed changes included determining premiums based on their total incomes, including part-time income from other jobs.
The area's other state senator, Republican Mike Azinger, believes that needs to change.
"It should be according to risk," Azinger says. "That's how insurance companies in free markets do it. It makes more sense, and that's the direction we should go in."
Governor Justice Tuesday said the PEIA still provides state employees with a better plan than private insurers.
But a House of Delegates member says for years, the PEIA board itself spent more money than it took in, leading to the problems it has today.
"It's a difficult situation we have to deal with," says Republican Delegate John Kelly. "But it is a situation we have to deal with, and we are trying to come up with a solution. It's not going to be easy."
Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston believes another problem is that the board's members representing education and public finance were eliminated in 2017.
The PEIA issue, along with other matters affecting teachers, will be discussed in a public forum Saturday.
It begins at 10 A.M., at Jackson Middle School in Vienna.
1/26/2018 4:25 P.M.
Lawmakers get an explanation from the head of the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency about proposed changes in the state insurance plan.
PEIA Executive Director Ed Cheatum discussed the changes Friday with state senators-including local senators Donna Boley and Mike Azinger.
The PEIA board is an independent board, and Cheatum told lawmakers changes in the plan, which do not need legislative approval, go into effect July first.
Sen. Boley, however, told us the PEIA board is receptive to modifications in those proposals.
State employees, notably teachers, have told us they're concerned about the proposals, which include changes in salary requirements for eligibility in the plan-which could increase their insurance costs.
Boley says lawmakers plan to discuss the changes next week with representatives of employee unions.
1/23/2018 5:15 P.M.
West Virginia lawmakers are figuring out what to do next, with proposed changes in the Public Employees Insurance program.
Those changes for 2019, made public last week, call for premium increases and changes in coverage requirements for teachers and other public employees.
A local delegate says his colleagues aren't happy with the changes, and doesn't believe they will be adopted in their current form.
"I think those changes are going to benefit the people who have PEIA coverage. It's going to be a difficult task to work through the issues and come up with the solutions to the problems we see coming forward."
Pleasants County Sen. Donna Boley says the PEIA proposals will be discussed Friday in a meeting with the agency's executive director.
Teachers local and statewide are also concerned with a change in the salary requirements for coverage under the program.
During the current legislative session, there could be changes in West Virginia's Public Employees Insurance system.
And it's enough to have employees and lawmakers talking.
Local lawmakers we spoke to Friday say they have received a list of recommendations from the Public Employees Insurance Board.
Among them, Wood County Delegate John Kelly says he's only begun to look at them, and could not comment further, for the time being.
But we also spoke to Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston. He says, just Friday, his members have learned about proposed changes.
They include: additional requirements to maintain benefits, eliminating insurance discounts for married couples, and counting additional income from second jobs in determining premiums.
But Kelly concedes comments about proposed changes-and fears of benefit cutbacks-are "blowing up his computer".
Just last week, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice proposed a 1% pay raise for the state's school teachers.
But public employees, including teachers, are concerned about cutbacks in PEIA benefits.
Some even have spoken informally about a strike, not unlike a 1990 walkout over teacher salaries punctuated by a confrontation with then-Gov. Gaston Caperton.
Kelly is being cautious at this point, saying he is awaiting details from the House Finance Committee on what it might propose.