MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The cold temperatures did not keep demonstrators inside Saturday as about 300 people with signs gathered outside the Berkeley County Courthouse in downtown Martinsburg for a rally in support of teachers.

Teachers in the Eastern Panhandle have united over their concerns over the proposed one-percent pay raise that many say wouldn’t cover the cost of the rising Public Employee Insurance Agency premiums.

Teachers, union members, parents and students showed up to the rally with signs as they urged support from those in traffic who honked their horns as they drove by.

Lynneia Atkinson, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Jefferson County and K-3 Special Ed teach at T. A. Lowery Elementary, was among the demonstrators.

She told MetroNews affiliate WEPM Radio News that the Public Employee Insurance Agency needs fixed.

“Premiums, deductibles, out of pocket costs. Our benefits are being cuts. Things aren’t being covered,” said Atkinson. “It’s just really getting out of control.”

Jim Watkins is a former teacher in Jefferson County and is also running for a seat on the county’s Board of Education. He said at the rally that the legislature needs to fully fund PEIA in order to keep good teachers in the region.

“Teachers can go 12 miles either way and make $20,000 to $40,000 more a year,” said Watkins. “So, you’re going to have to look at that realistically and say ‘What are you going to pay to get quality teachers to say in West Virginia?’”

Amy Lopez is a teacher at North Middle School and she brought her 8-year-old son, Xavier, to the rally.

She said the legislature should consider increasing the pay raise, lower premiums, or both.

“Both need to happen but that’s really difficult when the financial state of West Virginia is in distress,” said Lopez. “Somebody’s got to do something to make it happen.”

Organizers will demonstrate again next Saturday at 1 p.m. in front of the Buffalo Wild Wings on Foxcroft Avenue.

This story was written by WEPM Radio reporter Elias McMillan

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