Reject Strike By Educators

Questioned about challenges facing public education in West Virginia, teachers sometimes respond that they’re doing the best they can with what they have.

So are Mountain State taxpayers. Now, as many are preparing to do their state income tax returns and are thinking about paying property tax bills, is not a good time for the state’s teachers’ unions to talk about a strike.

But some in the unions are doing just that.

Some are upset that Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal for public employee pay raises includes just 1 percent added to teachers’ salaries. State legislators are under pressure to provide more.

During a rally for public employees last week, American Federation of Teachers of West Virginia President Christine Campbell said this: “If our efforts appear futile, we are prepared to take additional steps.” She added, “We don’t want to strike. Nobody does.”

But the talk is there.

Teachers’ frustration is understandable, to a point. It has been years since they received a significant pay raise. Meanwhile, the cost of living has gone up. Benefits through the public employees insurance program have been trimmed.

Pay does not remain stagnant, however. Pay scales include both experience and education increments. The longer an educator remains on the job, the higher his or her salary scale goes for many years. The same goes for those who obtain advanced training.

And Justice’s proposal is not for a single 1-percent raise. The governor has said he plans to seek additional 1- percent increases for school employees during each of the four coming years.

One big complaint among educators is that in some counties and some fields of instruction, there are major shortages of teachers. By one estimate, there are more than 700 teacher vacancies in West Virginia.

But one step that could have addressed the problem has been rejected year after year by the unions. It is offering teachers in some counties, such as those adjacent to other states with higher pay scales, more pay in an effort to compete. It also has been suggested teachers in certain fields, such as mathematics, might be paid more.

West Virginians pay relatively high percentages of our incomes to support public education. Our state is just beginning to emerge from an extended period during which legislators could not even balance budgets, but had to rely on midyear spending cuts.

Teachers are not the only people frustrated about paychecks, state government and the economy in general. Yet, almost invariably, West Virginians keep plugging along.

Many educators view their profession not as a job, but a calling. Making children’s prospects for the future better is something in which they believe deeply.

Going on strike would be turning their backs on those children.