No End in Sight for West Virginia Teacher Strike

Photo by John McCabe An overflow crowd attends a special Ohio County Board of Education meeting Friday. With school personnel still on strike, the board will meet again this morning.

WHEELING — West Virginia public school students won’t be in their classrooms again today as a work stoppage by teachers and school service personnel enters its 12th day, making it the longest walkout ever by the state’s teachers.

In Charleston, a House-Senate conference committee charged with resolving differences between the houses on a pay raise bill that could bring the teachers back to school did not meet Sunday. No meeting had been scheduled as of late Sunday, according to Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, who is a member of the committee.

The committee also will include Delegates Bill Anderson, R-Wood, and Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson; Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; and Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne.

House Bill 4145 — as passed by the House — would give 5-percent pay raises to West Virginia State Police troopers, public school teachers and school service employees. The Senate amended the bill Saturday, dropping the pay raise to 4 percent.

Today marks the eighth consecutive day students haven’t been in school. When weekends are added into the mix, the current walkout is now longer than the 11-day strike by West Virginia teachers in 1990.

One of the teachers on the picket line 18 years ago was veteran Wheeling Park High School speech and drama coach Bill Cornforth.

Cornforth said he has continued to work with members of the WPHS speech team as it seeks its 39th consecutive state championship in just two weeks.

A resolution passed by the Ohio County Board of Education in agreement with the teachers’ unions permits teachers to work with their students during the work stoppage to prepare them for “one-time events” such as tournaments that can’t be rescheduled.

Cornforth said at least one parent has asked him if their child was crossing the picket line to come work with him. He said he assured the parent he had been on the picket line during the day, and meeting with the student after 3 p.m. was OK.

But the show at least has been slowed down for the Park Players. Cornforth said play practice and set building for the spring musical is not happening as it is considered an event that can be rescheduled if needed.

“The strike is against the Legislature, and not the students,” Cornforth said. “I mean if a student studying on his own for an AP (advanced placement) test texts his teacher with a question, is he not supposed to answer? There has to be some common sense here.”

On Friday morning, Ohio County Schools Superintendent Kim Miller had said the district’s schools would be open today — but that was before she and other superintendents traveled to Charleston that afternoon to meet with Senate leadership.

Miller posted on social media that Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson — conducting action on the Senate floor — was over two hours late for the meeting with the superintendents.

“During our wait, I had the opportunity to discuss and listen to the other superintendent’s concerns and thoughts with respect to the current work stoppage,” she said. “I can clearly state that all West Virginia superintendents are in total agreement that the passage of HB 4145 would have ended the work stoppage and open schools throughout the state on Monday, March 5….

“Until I am satisfied that Ohio County Schools will have adequate staff to safely conduct school, our schools will remain closed.”

The Ohio County Board of Education will convene for a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. today in the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School.

House and Senate members, meanwhile, are set to convene at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol in Charleston.