MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As faculty senates prepare to convene Tuesday in Monongalia County on an action authorization vote, Monongalia County School Superintendent Frank Devono is hopeful these types of steps will help avert the first teacher work stoppage in 28 years.
“I certainly respect the local union’s willingness to want to be able to follow the direction of what the state leadership will do,” Devono said. “I think that’s very wise on the local leadership to be able to do that, and our employees. I think it kind of allows them to kind of look at this as a totality thing for West Virginia, and not necessarily for Mon County or any specific county in the state.
Devono, who remembers the 11-day stoppage in 1990 fairly well, said viewing the issues affecting teachers, service personnel, and public employees across the state in a holistic manner is a smart choice.
“But it is a statewide issue, and I think them authorizing or not authorizing the state (unions) to kind of act on their behalf is a wise way to go.”
Devono said he remained hopeful that cooler heads would eventually prevail, finding a resolution involving issues of public health insurance and teacher pay to help avoid a work stoppage.
“I think right now the idea is informational,” he said. “Let’s get the information out there. Let’s make sure that we take care of all the employees, especially in my realm, which would be our employees — teachers, principals, service employees, and everybody that works with children so that we can avert any potential of an issue that may arise from a work stoppage.”
He expressed empathy Monday, but also suggested that there were a number of public employees across the state in agencies that also hadn’t been addressed by increases in either benefits or overall pay.
“I think they’ve gone several years without either, and I think it’s viable that we look at that in a very earnest way to be able to do something for our employees,” he said. “But, I think the other part of me also wants to make sure that we do something for all the other government agencies.”
Devono will be as supportive as he can be, but said his first priority is in the education of students.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be our public who will be effected by it if there is a walkout,” he said. “I certainly want to make sure that we do what we have to do to protect the educational system of our students. We certainly want to support everything, but, bottom line, it has to be the better interest of our students that we look to.”
By state law, public employees are not actually legally permitted to strike, though Devono said he could not remember any local Boards of Education terminating teachers who engaged in the 1990 strike.
“That would have to be a call that, we’d certainly look to our Governor for his direction or our State Superintendent if they wanted to do anything along that line,” Devono said. “I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that. I think there’s a lot of wise people and people who want to put their minds to this.”
The votes will be tallied over a period of several days to allow absentees — like overnight custodians — to have their votes cast. The results will be reported to a statewide meeting Feb. 11 in Flatwoods.