Ohio County Schools Won’t Dock Strikers

Days missed after classes resume won’t count against $1,350 supplement

Photo by Joselyn King A crowd consisting of many Ohio County Schools teachers and service employees filled the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School for Monday night’s board of education meeting.

WHEELING — Ohio County public school employees won’t be penalized for days missed due to a work stoppage if classes resume and they choose to call off work.

Public school is canceled for a fourth straight day today in all 55 West Virginia school districts. In the event school is called back into session and teachers choose to remain on strike, they would be forced to use a dock day for missing work.

By a 3-2 vote, the Ohio County Board of Education on Monday decided these dock days missed by employees during the current strike won’t be counted against the $1,350 health supplement teachers and service personnel receive annually.

Employees filling the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School stood in ovation after the vote.

Supporting the measure to not penalize employees were board president Zach Abraham and members Shane Mallett and Tim Birch, while Sarah Koegler and Christine Carder were against the issue.

Abraham’s comments after the vote might have led one to believe he also opposed the measure.

“I’m going to be real with you here — this is very difficult,” he told those present. “I don’t sit in your seat, and you don’t sit in mine….

“These decisions we are making in support of you are just acts. Understand, if we do have to make some tough decisions, it’s not anything against any one of you whatsover.”

Abraham said he deals with the issue of workplace accountability every day in his business consulting job.

“And this goes against every fiber of my being,” he said of not penalizing employees for missing work.

“But I reached out and talked to people because these are real lives.

“It’s hard because I live with each one of you. I have friends and family who are teachers…. I’m just asking you to do your part to get back in school.”

Carder told the teachers and service employees she doesn’t want them to be the pawns in a legislative battle.

“We hope for the best, but we have to come to a resolution before it really affects our children,” she said. “Hopefully, your leadership can get it done as quickly as possible for all of us. Hang in there. It’s very, very tense.”

Koegler said she was proud of the employees.

“I am extremely disappointed in our state leadership,” she said. “I really do hope we can move as quickly as possible to resolve this issue.”

The board also unanimously passed a measure supporting the teachers and their efforts to receive increased pay, better benefits and more respect.

Mallett said he remembers his father joining other teachers on the picket line during the last statewide strike in 1990, and the family still has the letter he received telling him he would be terminated then if he didn’t return to work.

What is different now is the support employees are receiving from the administration, and that Superintendent Kim Miller and Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones have joined teachers on the picket lines, according to Mallett.

“We 100 percent support every teacher and every service personnel in their endeavors for what they are seeking in Charleston,” he said.

Birch said he was embarrassed by the words of Gov. Jim Justice to Northern Panhandle teachers and service personnel earlier on Monday, and commended them for their resolve.

“You were professional,” he said. “Our governor was not.”

He told the employees he would be there for them when needed.

A third resolution approved by the board cancels all sports activities in the school district during the teacher strike except for those considered one-time events. Both regularly sanctioned and club sports are affected.

During Monday’s meeting, principals in Ohio County Schools stood together at the podium to say they also support the teachers in their efforts.

Employees and parents also came to the podium, with most speaking in support of the walkout.

Parent Sonny West, however, said the teachers need to be accountable to their jobs and students, and should return to the classroom.