No End in Sight to Teachers’ Strike

Ohio County Schools to Seek Answers, Better Inform Public

Photos by John McCabe Ohio County Schools Superintendent Kim Miller discusses the ongoing statewide teacher/school service personnel strike during an Ohio County Board of Education meeting this morning at Wheeling Park High School.

WHEELING — Information regarding a current strike by school workers in West Virginia is “changing by the minute,” and Ohio County school officials promised today to work better at getting information out to the community.

Administration also will meet today to hash out a plan for determining which extra-curricular activities and assistance to students can continue as the work stoppage continues with no end in sight.

The Ohio County Board of Education met in special session this morning to provide an update on the work stoppage by their employees. Board president Zach Abraham and members Sarah Koegler, Shane Mallet and Tim Birch were present. Members are permitted to call in to two meetings per year, and member Christine Carder chose not to call in to today’s meeting.

“We are hoping to get to a resolution,” Superintendent Kim Miller said today. “Some people say there is a lack of communication, and they want to know what’s happening.

“It’s changing minute-by-minute, and we are doing our best to provide parents and students with as much information as we can, as quickly as possible.”

Wheeling Middle School teacher Matt Heusel addresses the Ohio County Board of Education during a meeting this morning at Wheeling Park High School.

The work stoppage began after Gov. Jim Justice signed a 2 percent pay raise for next year. The House of Delegates later approved a 5 percent increase, negotiated last week between Justice and the unions.

Then on Saturday, the state Senate approved a 4 percent raise, prompting angry union leaders to vow to stay out of the classroom indefinitely. The House wouldn’t agree to the Senate’s move, sending the bill to the conference committee.

House of Delegates spokesman Jared Hunt said we will learn today when the committee plans to meet.

Meanwhile at today’s board meeting, much of the concern expressed by parents pertains to the school calendar, and if graduation dates might be changed. They also have questions about the continuation of extra-curricular activities.

“Our students will make up the academic minutes,” Miller said. “And we are concerned about those extra-curricular things that are taking place.

“Initially, it was decided among the superintendents that only one-time events would take place. That’s when we truly believed this would come to an end in a short amount of time. We know this is dragging on longer, and we’re constantly evaluating what is going on in our county, as well as what is going on in our state.”

She called events surrounding the work-stoppage an “an unchartered time” for everyone.

“We’re trying to make decisions and move forward as peacefully, and as in support of our students as we can,” she said.

Days for seniors are being evaluated on a daily basis, and teachers have reached out to help advanced placement students studying for testing, according to Miller.

Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones said it is now to the point “where we are literally hurting our kids” by not allowing them to practice and take part in school-related events.

He asked the board’s position for administrators to meet this afternoon and determine which events and practices could be opened up to students as soon as this afternoon.

Secondly, Jones said his phone has been ringing and beeping constantly with comments over the past week– but that not one of the many messages asked any questions. This is in contrast to the many questions being posed on social media about the work stoppage.

“I will answer anybody’s question anytime they call me,” he said. “Dr. Miller feels the same way. We have tried to pride ourselves on being to a fault approachable…. Anybody in the world can come talk to us. Everybody knows that.”

Twelve people spoke before the board this morning, providing their perspective on the strike. Just two of them — Betsy Delk and Sunny West — encouraged teachers to return to work.

Delk called the teachers in Ohio County “excellent,” and said that’s why she wanted them to be back in school teaching students. She expressed concerns about graduating seniors, and whether advanced placement students were getting the assistance they need. She also questioned why some extra-curricular events were allowed to continue, while other have not been.

West, meanwhile, urged the board to move forward with an injunction requiring striking employees to return to the schools. She also suggested teacher pay be based on merit and not tenure. This she said would help West Virginia move from near-the-bottom in education indicators.

Teachers’ wages in West Virginia, meanwhile, are 49th among the states.

“Pay coincides with product,” West said.

The majority of the speakers spoke out in favor of the teachers, while praising them and encouraging them to continue on in their fight. They pointed out the positive effect they are having on the community, and commended them for teaching children to stand up and speak out where there is injustice,.

Some religious leaders also called on prayer for all those involved.

Among those speaking were Kerri Crews, the Rev. Ralph Dunkin, Matt Heusel, Meagan Kirchner, Jason Wade, Stacy Russell, Kate Marshall, Noah Marshall, Nikki Kiger and the Rev. Sean Smith.