West Virginia Teachers on Strike

Rain-Soaked Morning For Teachers On Picket Lines

Photo by Mike Myer Teachers and school personnel are shown during a walkout this morning at West Liberty Elementary School.

WHEELING — Triadelphia Middle School special education teacher Marsha Roth has been an educator for 40 years. This morning she stood on a picket line for the second time in her career to say things are not changing for teachers in West Virginia.

Teachers in Ohio County and across the state braved cold rains and near freezing temperatures as they started the first day of a two-day walk-out called to draw state leaders’ attentions to concerns about benefits, wages and respect long-held by teachers.

Roth said the issues today are the same as they were 27-years ago in 1990, when West Virginia teachers last struck over pay issues. They are upset over increasing health costs, a 1-percent pay raise that doesn’t cover the cost of the premium increases for many, and concerns about proposed charter schools and school vouchers in West Virginia, she said.

“What’s different now is we have the support of the administration,” she said. “There was division.”

State lawmakers late Tuesday night passed a measure that would give teachers, school employees and state police a 2 percent raise in 2019, and 1-percent raises in 2020 and 2021. The measure as amended by the Senate took away a third year in which teachers would receive a 1-percent pay hike, but gave an additional year to school employees and State Police.

Today the teachers were seen standing unified in front of Triadelphia Middle School, across National Road near the entrance to Wheeling Park, at West Liberty Elementary and at Wheeling Middle School in South Wheeling.

At Wheeling Middle School, Sherry Bender said she has been a teacher since 1983, and joined in the 1990 strike.

Teachers held many of the 12 signs she handcrafted for the picket lines — one of which depicts Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio. It asked, “Why should teachers support you if you don’t support us?”

She lamented that problems with increasing Public Employees Insurance Agency premiums have not been rectified.

“I’m ready to retire, but I have to have insurance,” she said. “We have to save it and not let it go.”

Teachers in Ohio County said they were lucky to receive a $1,350 incentive bonus each year for not using all their personal and sick days. This is intended to help them pay their health care premiums, and isn’t available to most teachers in West Virginia.

Former Ohio County teacher of the year Heidi Hohman was on the picket line at Triadelphia, and said in recent years she has mentored eight student teachers she termed “excellent,” and ready to lead in the the classroom.

None of the eight teachers remained in West Virginia after receiving their certification, however, according to Hohman. They went on to teach in such states as Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan where they received higher starting salaries.

“It’s all about the kids,” said her co-worker Joann VanHorn. “We believe in our students, and we’re willing to face the weather for them.

“We hear the call of teaching. That’s why we’re here.”

She said the “more mature” are anxious to work with younger students, and want the state to attract the best and brightest.

Triadelphia Middle School social studies teacher Stefan Moray carried a sign that stated, “Remember in November.”

“Teachers deserve better,” he said of the actions thus far taken by the West Virginia Legislature to give them a 2-percent pay raise next year, and 1-percent increases the following two years.

“We want respect from the Legislature,” Moray said. “We are sick of the lack of respect from Charleston.”

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