KINGWOOD, W.Va. — Educators and public workers in Preston County want to take a stand on PEIA and salaries, but believe that public education as a whole is under attack.

“I know that a lot of the media and a lot of what’s coming out of the Legislative offices is that this is a pay issue and that this is an insurance issue,” said Cassandra Sisler, President of the Preston County Education Association. “Those are both issues, but it’s far more than that.”

Sisler said rising support for vouchers and charter schools in Charleston, when mixed with issues over teacher pay, a diminished benefits package, and revenue cuts, show a clear anti-education agenda. In particular, Sisler deemed the momentum to eliminate the business inventory tax, which would require a change to the state’s Constitution, as part of an anti-public education mission.

“They say that there’s a plan to replace that revenue, but we’ve not seen any real, clear plan on how that’s going to go,” she said. “That just means that, with the charter schools and the vouchers, all of that already robs underfunded schools of funding. It has a direct impact on our students. This is as much about our students and what we see in our classrooms as it is about the other issues, and they are still valid issues. But this is every bit as much about how this impacts our students.”

Following her complaints over Charleston’s record on education, Sisler criticized what she described as a profound anti-union sentiment. S.B. 335 passed the West Virginia Senate by a 20-13 vote Friday. The bill, which prohibits certain organizations and activities from collecting dues or fees directly from a paycheck, will no longer allow unions to directly collect dues from a teacher’s paycheck without additional re-authorization.

“To call that a payroll protection act, it’s really a slap in the face because I’m an educated adult,” Sisler said. “When I sign an agreement to have something taken out of my paycheck, I know what I’m signing. They’re not protecting me from anything. They’re trying to bust the unions.”

Senator Robert Karnes, an Upshur County Republican, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that teachers could find other means to pay their dues other than deductions. That’s why Michelle Liga, President of AFT-Preston, said teachers are leading the way in the current strife and unrest

“You have to remember, we’re not only fighting for us,” Liga said. “We’re fighting for all the public workers. They’re all being affected too by other issues, and some of them can not speak because of their positions.”

Sisler said Preston County took their action authorization vote this week, but the results were not released Friday. She and Liga are expected to attend Sunday’s meeting in Flatwoods among the WVEA and AFT.

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