West Virginia Teachers, Service Employees to Continue Strike Monday

Local schools will decide on closing

Photos by Scott McCloskey Ohio County public school teachers and service personnel line National Road in Wheeling on the second day of a statewide work stoppage held to protest wages and benefits authorized by the West Virginia Legislature. The walk-out will continue through Monday, according to union officials representing the educators and service workers.

WHEELING — Union leaders representing West Virginia’s public school teachers and service employees announced Friday this week’s two-day statewide walk-out by union members will continue Monday.

The move leaves local school districts deciding whether to cancel school for a third day as teachers and school employees strike to gain the West Virginia Legislature’s attention, and voice their concerns over increasing health care costs and low wages.

The strike Monday again will be statewide. Union leaders previously indicated if additional walk-out days would be needed, these would be rolling walkouts designated in specific counties on a daily basis.

School districts contacted Friday night indicated they were caught off-guard by the announcement, and needed time to assess their next moves.

In Ohio County, Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones said he would have to meet with Superintendent Kim Miller this weekend to determine how the school district will proceed.

“We were expecting a rolling walkout,” he said. “We’re going to have to sit down and talk and see how to move forward.

“I know we can’t keep doing this. This could get ugly. We don’t want it to get ugly and we know our teachers don’t want it to get ugly. Everyone just wants to do their job.”

Meanwhile, Ohio County Schools and other local school districts are dealing with their second wave of flooding in the last 10 days.

Jones said school employees worked last week to move items that needed to be taken to higher ground, and this property remains where it was placed. Wheeling Island Stadium also is in “good shape,” he said.

But there is a need today to move buses from the school district’s garage in Fulton to the parking lot at Wheeling Park High School to get them out of harm’s way. Bus drivers had indicated they would come help move the buses.

“Now we’ll just have to see,” Jones said. “Even if there is a work stoppage and there’s a problem on our property, people will show up. That’s what I’ve learned about our employees. I know our people are good people.”

No Ohio County Board of Education members — President Zach Abraham, Sarah Koegler, Shane Mallett, Christine Carter or Tim Birch — immediately returned calls seeking comment Friday evening.

Marshall County Schools spokesman Tony Wood said Superintendent John Crook planned to meet with school board members there today. A decision about classes in Marshall County on Monday is forthcoming, according to Wood.

Wetzel County Superintendent Robin Daquilante said she also will need to speak with her board members today.

“We’ll see what happens after that,” she said. “If weather does what it’s supposed to, we may be flooded, anyway.

“At this time, I’ve not reached any decision. I’m still trying to process it all.”

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he and his colleagues would continue to monitor legislative action over the weekend. He addressed a vocal group of supporters at the State Capitol in Charleston.

“It is clear that education employees are not satisfied with the inaction of legislative leaders or the governor to date,” he said during the announcement Friday. “Education employees have not seen appropriate progress on issues vital to teachers, professional personnel and service personnel, and that is why we are still here. We continue to weigh legislative action to satisfy the needs of education employees so they may return to schools and continue to provide quality education for the children of our state.

“Our members have spoken and are not prepared to go back to work yet. Therefore, teachers, service professionals across the state of West Virginia will continue to be out Monday.”

He was asked if he thought there would be backlash from the public and school administrators over additional missed school days due to the strike by teachers and school employees,

“We would hope they would understand the plight of educators across the state, and that they would heed their voices,” Lee said. “Our educators will go back and tell the superintendents there isn’t going to be enough people to man the classrooms on Monday, and we suggest they call school off.

“I would hope they would understand that, and do the same thing.”

He added that he expects all 55 county superintendents to support the continued strike by canceling school Monday, as a number of county boards and superintendents have given support to the strike.

“Based on the past two days, I’m not expecting a problem from any county,” Lee said.