CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Gov. Jim Justice has signed legislation that will provide teachers, school service personnel and state police with a 2 percent pay increase starting in July and has taken the steps in the budget to include a 2 percent pay raise for all other state employees effective July 1 as well.
Teachers are also scheduled to get an additional 1 percent hike in each of the following two years ,2020 and 2021, while school service personnel and state police will get an additional 1 percent in 2020.
Gov. Justice said that members of the West Virginia Legislature “did the responsible thing to help our teachers and state employees” by passing the pay raise package on Tuesday.
“We need to keep our kids and teachers in the classroom. We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue. The PEIA board has also voted to approve changes I recommended - I’ve asked and the PEIA board has voted to eliminate the mandated participation in the Go365 program, the use of combined household income to determine rates, and to freeze the plan for 16 months while we examine it and enact a long-term solution to the PEIA problems." he said.
“Now we need to turn our focus back to continuing public education reforms and making our state educational system the best in the country," he said.
The West Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday approves the new version of a bill to give pay raises to teachers, school service personnel, and West Virginia State Police.
Since it's been to both the House and Senate, it's headed to Governor Jim Justice's desk. He can either veto or it approve it.
The amended bill would give teachers and school service personnel a 2 percent raise in the first year. A one percent raise would follow for the next two years.
A third year of a 1 percent raise for teachers had been in an earlier version of the bill passed by the House.
The West Virginia Legislature's minority Democratic leaders say the state needs to raise pay for jail and prison guards, teachers and other public workers as priorities.
Addressing the West Virginia Press Association, Sen. Tim Miley says the guards are a particular concern.
In December, Gov. Jim Justice authorized using the National Guard to help oversee juvenile and adult lockups.
Miley says a guard from his district tells him corrections officials are now hiring new personnel with misdemeanor convictions.
Sen. Roman Prezioso, a former school administrator, says teachers are looking about $800 in higher monthly insurance costs that dwarf a proposed 1 percent pay raise worth about $34.
Prezioso says it's been a calm legislative session so far, "but I'm afraid it's the calm before the storm."
WTAP's sister station WSAZ reports Logan County Schools announced schools in the county will be closed Friday due to "an illegal unauthorized employee walkout."
Mingo County followed suit Thursday evening.
Wyoming County Schools are also closed Friday due to an impending work stoppage.
Teachers from Logan County are expected to be at the State Capitol Complex Friday to protest pay and health care.
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Update: 1/31/2018 6:45 P.M.
Teachers, and some supporters, showed up by the dozens Wednesday outside Parkersburg South High School, to call attention to what they believe are setbacks in both teacher pay and the health and other benefits they receive.
"West Virginians have a lot of pride in our state," said teacher Jessica Robinson, "and if we want to keep people here, we have to focus on education, you have to take care of your people. And our state isn't doing that."
Their point: a proposed 1% pay raise isn't enough, and suggested changes in the state employees insurance program may be too much for them to qualify for.
And Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston told us recently, it doesn't just affect educators.
"We're talking state police officers, DHHR employees," Boston said. "We're all in the same boat on this PEIA issue. So we need your support, we need you to call your legislator in Charleston and support us."
Robinson says if teachers leave the state, due to pay and benefits, it affects the quality of education of taxpayers children, and the services they get.
"This affects everyone; not just teachers, not just state employees, it affects our students and the population of West Virginia."
Another informational picket is planned for Friday at Emerson School. A public forum on the issue is scheduled for Saturday morning, February 10, at 10 A.M. at Jackson Middle School.
On Tuesday, changes were made to West Virginia's Go365 plan, which affects all public employees, including teachers.
Teachers gathered at Stoked Coffee house to make signs for an informational picket that will be held on Wednesday.
Those that put this together say it is an opportunity to rally West Virginia public employees and inform the public about the struggle with salary and insurance costs.
The Go365 plan is a newer insurance program that asks employees on the Public Employees Insurance Agency to keep track of their healthy habits in exchange for points that will result in lower costs.
But even with it changing to a voluntary program, current employees say it doesn’t fix the problem.
Erin Robinson, Franklin Elementary Reading Specialist, explains the main problem is the low pay. “The really issue is not the 365, its salaries of public employees and it’s that our health insurance is slowly eroding every year to the point where we can’t afford to go to the doctor. West Virginia actually ranks 49th in the nation, when you look at teacher’s salaries. So we are pretty much at the bottom of the barrel.”
The picket will be on Blizzard Drive in front of Parkersburg South Wednesday from 4 to 6pm.