CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hundreds of teachers stood together outside of Kanawha County schools Friday in a show of solidarity as frustration increases with a proposed one percent pay raise, health insurance concerns and other issues at the state capitol.
What happened in Kanawha and Berkeley counties was called a ‘walk-in.” Teachers stood in front of their schools before the school day started. They stood together for about an hour and then went to work. Teachers in a handful of other counties including Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties began gathering at the state capitol Friday morning in connection with walkouts. There was no school in those three counties Friday.
Kanawha County teacher Yvonne Martin works at Montrose Elementary in South Charleston, she’s been in the classroom for 39 years. She said teachers are upset.
“Our kids are too important not to fund public education,” she told MetroNews. “Vouchers and savings accounts? West Virginia wake-up! That’s just another way to take funding away from public education.”
Montrose Elementary Physical Education teacher Greg Garber, a teacher since 1989, held a sign about PEIA changes Friday morning.
“For years they’ve promised benefits in lieu of raises and they promised us sick leave days in exchange for insurance–they’ve taken that away. They have increased our deductibles and co-pays every year,” Garber said. “Now they have bills that do away with seniority.”
A group of teachers braved temperatures in the teens as they stood outside of Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Charleston’s West Side Friday morning. Seventh grade teacher Jay O’Neal said the walk-in was to “raise awareness about what teachers and all public employees are going through.”
“We have PEIA cuts and we haven’t had a raise since 2014. Enough is enough,” O’Neal said.
When asked if he thought there would eventually be a teachers strike, O’Neal said it would be a county by county decision.
“We’ll see what happens next week. I think it’s up to the legislature at this point to understand,” he said.
Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday the PEIA Finance Board would consider changing the controversial ‘total family income’ issue. Publica hearings will be held in the days ahead. Justice was scheduled to have a news conference Friday morning at the capitol to discuss public education but it was cancelled.
The state Senate is scheduled to vote during Friday’s floor session on the governor’s one percent pay raise bill.