UPDATE: Informational pickets continue

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WOOD COUNTY, W.Va. (WTAP) - UPDATE: 3/2/2018 5:35 P.M.

While teachers and service personnel continue to rally in Charleston, informational pickets also continue in Wood County.

Teachers picketing in front of Parkersburg South High School were joined by students, who have been out of class since the walkout began February 21st.

They were joined by the now-familiar chorus of drivers honking their horns, to show support of educators.

Teacher groups say the pickets continue to be about calling attention to their issues of teacher pay and insurance benefits.

"They're also focused on thanking the community for being so supportive and positive during the past week or so," said Greg Merritt, President of the Wood County Federation of Teachers. "We have had a lot of community support, and we truly appreciate it."

Merritt says the reject the proposal by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, to earmark money Gov. Jim Justice suggested for teacher raises, to instead be used instead of "rainy day fund" money to fund PEIA.

He adds, however, the insurance issues will not be resolved "with the stroke of a pen".

Another teacher says the legislature needs to immediately address both the pay and insurance issues.

"I would hope they would feel a sense of urgency to sign this bill into law, says Franklin Elementary teacher Erin Robinson, "so the teachers would be back teaching school like we want to be."

Students also have joined the informational pickets while they're out of the classrooms.

"They always teach me in cool ways, and I always enjoy being in their classes," says Caleb Windland of Edison Middle School. "I feel like they feel students care about them, and you really want to help them."

School leaders, meantime, are increasingly concerned about the prolonged work stoppage.

Wood County Superintendent John Flint says there are what he characterizes as "no throwaway days" for education.

At a meeting with state lawmakers Friday in Charleston, Flint noted school systems across the state, including Wood County, are entering the period where students are about to take state exams.

And he's concerned they won't be prepared for when that happens.

Earlier, Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling told The News Center a decision would be made after the end of the work stoppage, as to how students will make up the days lost since it began.

Fling said the school system had six days lost due to inclement weather earlier in the winter. One of those has since been made up.
Other lost days may have to be made up by extending the school year, which currently is to end June 1.

ORIGINAL STORY: 03/01/2018 10:00 P.M.

Teachers and school service personnel appreciate the support.

Around a dozen people braved the rain Thursday as they formed an informational line outside Neale Elementary School in Vienna.

Ashley Carter, a second grade teacher at the school, said, "Teachers are waiting for lawmakers to cooperate."

"And we feel it's only right to wait until they have held up their end of the deal to go back to school," said Jessica Sandy, a 5th grade teacher at Neale.

The proposed 5% pay raise bill has been sent to the Senate Finance Committee, which won’t meet until Friday.

Under that bill, teachers could receive an annualized pay increase of $2,020. State troopers would receive $2,160. School service personnel would net a $1,100 increase.

Robert Jenkins, a custodian at Jackson Middle School in Vienna, is thinking of future teachers.

"We want the money to be there to entice them to come to be teachers and work in our community," he said.

"We want them to stay here. We don't want them to have to somewhere else to make a living."

Carter thinks the same.

"If you would make the wages more competitive and our insurance a little bit more enticing, we could bring the best of the best teachers to West Virginia," she said.

As cars honked along Grand Central Avenue and people waved from their cars, teachers and school service personnel reminded what the main focus of the walkout is about.

"A message to my students, please keep reading, keep working on the assignments the teachers sent home, we miss you, we hope to see you soon," Sandy said.

"We're desperate to get back into our classrooms, we don't like being here this is not a comfortable place for us, we much rather be in our rooms helping our students," Carter said.

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