PARKERSBURG, CHARLESTON, W.Va.-(WTAP) 2/21/2018 6:15 P.M.
At an emergency meeting of the West Virginia Board of Education Wednesday morning, advocates for higher pay and benefits for educators continued to state their case.
"The people are hurting," said Joe White, Executive Director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association: "This is bigger than us."
And with a massive rally planned for Thursday and Friday at the state capital, several local teachers and personnel are headed to Charleston to deliver their point to lawmakers. But some plan to do the same at home.
"A handful of us, a good number of us, actually, will be spending the day here," said Noel Clinton, Vice-President, Wood County Federation of Teachers. "We have some organized informational pickets that will be going on throughout the town."
Those locations are Parkersburg, Parkersburg South and Williamstown High Schools, as well as Neale and Emerson elementaries.
Clinton says the pay raise approved Tuesday by the state legislature is inadequate, especially for first-year teachers, many of whom, she says, have to find supplemental income.
"We have teachers, new teachers, who are working second jobs trying to make payments on their bills and taking care of their families. That won't be enough to cover any of that."
She adds those working teachers also have had to seek public assistance such as the SSI and CHIP programs.
And another public official, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, issued a statement proclaiming the protest illegal, arguing it closes schools that should be in session.
“Our teachers and school service personnel are among the state’s best and brightest, and I wholeheartedly support their cries for higher salaries and affordable healthcare, however a work stoppage of any length on any ground is illegal.
“Let us make no mistake, the impending work stoppage is unlawful. State law and court rulings give specific parties avenues to remedy such illegal conduct, including the option to seek an injunction to end an unlawful strike.
“This illegal work stoppage affects hundreds of thousands of students and families across our state. Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law. We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.
“Any such action would be consistent with my duty as attorney general to uphold the rule of law and designed so as to ensure our students have access to the education they are entitled to by our state’s constitution. Breaking the law does not set a good example for our children.”
Gregory Merritt, President of the Wood County Federation of Teacher, told The News Center Tuesday local teachers' plans for the scheduled work stoppage Thursday and Friday were based on what the Wood County Board of Education itself planned for those days.
Wood County Schools Tuesday announced school would not be in session those days.
Both teaching and non-teaching employees around the state plan a two-day work stoppage, with a large number of those employees headed to Charleston to make their concerns about pay and benefits known to lawmakers.
Merritt says some of his membership plans to go to the Capital, while others may hold informational pickets like ones held in recent weeks, to call attention to their situation.
Meanwhile, West Virginia's Superintendent of Schools, Steve Paine, issued this statement Tuesday on the planned work stoppage:
“As a lifelong educator, I fully recognize and support the work of our teachers and service personnel. Our educators are committed to their profession and dedicate their passions every day to providing West Virginia students with the education they deserve. Only as we are able to provide competitive benefits – inclusive of adequate pay and affordable healthcare – are we able to recruit and retain the best talent. I fully recognize that our teachers and service personnel deserve more and, I personally know the West Virginia Board of Education, our Governor and our State Legislators agree. Unfortunately, the economic realities of our state may not allow everything teachers deserve to take place immediately.
"I regret that circumstances have led to the announcement of a statewide work stoppage and I am working diligently with all parties to advocate for a prompt resolution. I am hopeful that action will be taken to prevent any disruption to students and classrooms. Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia and will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time. Families will be forced to seek out alternative safe locations for their children, and our many students who depend on schools for daily nutrition will face an additional burden. I encourage our educators to advocate for the benefits they deserve, but to seek courses of action that have the least possible disruption for our students.”
Superintendent Paine met this week with all county superintendents.
“I, as well as all county superintendents, are hopeful that ongoing negotiations will result in an agreement prior to a work stoppage. Be assured that our county superintendents are working tirelessly to minimize disruption to students and communicate frequently with parents regarding plans in the event of a work stoppage. Each county will make a decision based on the unique needs of its county, keeping the safety and well-being of students as a top priority.
As the situation progresses, I will continue to work with all parties involved to reach the best solution possible for educators, students and our state as a whole.”
Paine's statement did not mention any action the state education department planned if the walkout takes place.
Also Tuesday, the Public Employees Insurance Board officially put off through the next fiscal year its proposed changes to PEIA benefits.
That gives the board-and state lawmakers-17 months to work on a funding system for the insurance plan.