West Virginia Schools Could Be Out Indefinitely

Senate Drops Pay Raise From 5 Percent to 4 Percent

Photos Provided Robin Capehart, counsel for the West Virginia Legislature’s Senate Finance Committee explains a proposed pay raise bill to committee members.

WHEELING — Teachers and school superintendents now are left pondering whether there will be school Monday — or any time next week — after the West Virginia Senate on Saturday night, passed out a pay raise bill dropping a proposed pay raise for public school employees from 5 percent to 4 percent.

The House then refused the amended House Bill 4145 from the Senate, and a conference committee now has been appointed.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said school superintendents coming to Charleston on Friday told lawmakers they have grown weary of having to make a call on whether to have school each day.

“They told us if there is not an agreement by noon (today) — they are going to call off school indefinitely,” Prezioso said.

Officials with Ohio County Schools said Friday morning they intended to have the schools open on Monday. It was not known Saturday if that will happen. There is a special meeting of the board of education set for 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, the Senate appointed to the committee Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; and Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne.

The House, in turn, chose as its members William Anderson, R-Wood; Paul Espinoza, R-Jefferson; and Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.

Both the House and Senate adjourned late Saturday night until 11 a.m. Monday.

Suggestions were made on the House floor that the conference committee meet today to try and reach an agreement so schools could open again on Monday, and Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he would discuss that with the conference committee chairman.

The 1-percent drop equals about $13.4 million to the state, and Senate Republicans said this money could be used to give all state employees a 4-percent raise. Many of the employees have not had raises since 2004, according to Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas.

The 4-percent pay raise proposed by the Senate actually would equate to a dollar amount based on the average salary in each position. State police troopers would receive $1,127 annually; teachers, $1,616 for a 200-day contract year; and service personnel, $88 a month.

Senate Democrats asked if Republican leadership had consulted with either Gov. Jim Justice — who proposed the 5 percent pay raise — or House members who approved it if they would be accepting of the 1-percent change.

They also warned that a 4-percent raise was not enough to convince teachers and school service employees to return to school on Monday.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association released a joint response on the issue of the 4-percent pay raise:

“We, too, would love to see state employees receive the same percentage increase as our school employees, and we are fully supportive of them also receiving a 5-percent increase,” the groups stated.

“However, you do not equalize pay for different groups by simply taking away from one and passing to another. The purpose of this is clear — to divide us and pit us against each other.”

Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, expressed concern about the children who aren’t eating because of the school employee work stoppage.

“For 1 percent, we’ll let our kids go hungry,” he told his Senate colleagues. “I’m sorry … but I don’t want that on my conscience.”

Late Saturday, a side show took place in the Senate that Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, termed “chaotic” and “incompetent.”

After an initial passage, the Senate recalled House Bill 4145 based on what they call a “technical error” ” — the wrong legislation was sent to the House.

An hour earlier the Senate passed a version of the bill containing the 4-percent pay raise, but the bill sent to the House still contained the proposed 5 percent pay initially approved by the House.

The Senate asked that the bill be recalled, and after lengthy discussion about process.

It was passed a second time by a vote of 19-13 with two members then absent. Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, Majority Whip Ryan Weld, D-Brooke; and Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, all voted in favor. Sen. Mike Maroney, D-Marshall, left for the night and was absent for the vote.