West Virginia Classrooms Empty For a Seventh Day

Photo by Scott McCloskey Stefanie Cirilli, a special education teacher at Elm Grove Elementary School, stands with almost a dozen other teachers near the intersection of Kruger Street and National Road in Elm Grove Thursday.

WHEELING — West Virginia’s public school students will miss a seventh consecutive day of class today, as their teachers and service personnel continue to protest against what the employees perceive as low pay and expensive health care.

Ohio County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones said teachers and school service workers meeting this week indicated they were anxious to go back, and he expects that will happen soon.

“We want to go back to school. (Superintendent Kim Miller) wants to go back, and our unions want to go back. That was the temperature of the room. I truly believe we will be back to school Monday,” he said.

“If that doesn’t happen, I fear what is going to happen next. A lot of decisions will have to be made.”

The Ohio County Board of Education has called a special meeting for 7:30 a.m. today at the board office in the Elm Grove section of Wheeling to discuss the strike.

Meanwhile, at the Capitol in Charleston on Thursday, West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the Senate may seek to put $58 million in newly discovered state revenue into the Public Employment Insurance Agency’s stabilization fund — and not toward a 5 percent raise for striking teachers and school service employees.

The remarks by Carmichael, R-Jackson, regarding PEIA came on a day that saw the Senate decline to take immediate action on House Bill 4145, which passed through the House on Wednesday by a vote of 98-1.

The House legislation would give a 5 percent raise to teachers, service personnel and State Police troopers, with additional raises for other state employees to be addressed in the coming days.

Carmichael told Senate members the revised numbers indicating an additional $58 million in revenue for the state this year had been received the Senate, and “as good stewards of the taxpayer dollars,” leadership wanted to examine them more carefully.

If validated, the surplus would be dedicated to the PEIA stabilization fund, according to Carmichael.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, called for SB 4145 to be taken up for immediate consideration on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, next asked that Prezioso’s motion be tabled.

Senate members then voted 20-14 not to consider the measure, and it was assigned to the finance committee. Ferns, along with Sens. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke; Charles Clements, R-Wetzel; and Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, voted not to consider SB 4145 on Thursday.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, had announced Wednesday night the committee would not meet Thursday, and it did not.

He said his staff has been working to put together next year’s state budget, and “we’re working on it right now.”

Blair’s plan is to have the budget ready for examination today, and to work on it throughout the evening and perhaps through the weekend.

“That budget will have to have whatever we do for pay raises, PEIA, and all the other host of things we have to be able to manage,” Blair said.

“I don’t like feeling bullied when we’re going to do something….”

He said he was very concerned that 40 of West Virginia’s 55 counties have excess school levies going before voters in May, and the pay raise bill could negatively affect their outcomes.

In his own Berkeley County, voters are being asked to approve a levy that provides an extra $3,000 in pay to each teacher.

The 5 percent pay raise being proposed for teachers in SB 4145 equates to about $2,000 annually for each teacher.

“The last thing I want to do is put ourselves in a position where the voter says they just got a $2,000 pay raise — I’m not voting for that levy,” Blair said.

Ohio County will put before voters on May 8 a $42.2 million school bond issue intended to help pay for $76 million in building projects in the school district over the next 15 years.