CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The organization that represents school service personnel in the Mountain State has joined teachers to authorize action in the ongoing dispute over pay and benefits.

The vote came Wednesday from the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

The move follows similar votes last week by groups representing teachers, the West Virginia Education Association and West Virginia American Federation of Teachers.

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Joe White, WVSSPA Executive Director

WVSSPA Executive Director Joe White told MetroNews Wednesday afternoon 72 percent of those voting in the group’s county organizations voted in favor of statewide action.

“Our folks are hurting out there and while this office does not advocate a strike or any kind of walkout—we’re hearing what the people are saying,” White said. “This is our membership speaking.”

White said the move speaks volumes. He said it’s first vote of its kind in the organization’s 52-year history.

The average pay of school cooks, custodians, secretaries and other service personnel is $25,500 a year but many make much less, according to White.

Most of them are concerned about the increasing cost of health insurance through PEIA, he said.

The specific action school service personnel will take hasn’t been decided on.

“But the authorization is there,” White said.

White said the children have been at the top of conversation in conference calls among the group’s members and that will be taken into account when considering what steps to take.

“It’s a dire situation they are in and they feel this,” he said.

The WVSSPA represents about 8,000 of the 13,000 service personnel workers statewide.

Meanwhile, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee asked the state Board of Education Wednesday to formally support education workers. Lee made comments before the Board at the beginning of its monthly meeting Wednesday in Charleston.

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Dale Lee

“I understand that some of you may be uncomfortable that some of the tactics that are ultimately used during the action but you can certainly understand that the issues of pay and constant struggles of public education and public education employees,” he said.

The board didn’t immediately respond to Lee’s comments.

Dr. Steve Paine, West Virginia superintendent of schools, declined comment on the matter through a spokesperson.

This week, more county boards of education have taken votes in support of local teachers and school service workers.

One day teachers walkouts are scheduled for Friday in Mason, Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Clay counties. By Wednesday afternoon, Mason, Cabell and Lincoln counties had already called school off for Friday. The teachers plan to gather in Charleston and march to the state capitol. A separate rally for education is also scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the capitol.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) wants to see the numbers on the House’s state worker pay raise bill — with two percent more next year for teachers, school service workers and State Police.

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Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson

The House plan is 2-1-1-1 versus the previously-approved Senate plan of 1-1-1-1-1.

As for possible Senate approval, “We are not going to do that without a thorough financial analysis,” Carmichael said Wednesday. “We don’t believe it’ll take long to do.”

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead was asked to comment on the possibility of a strike during an appearance Wednesday on “Talkline.”

“I certainly hope there is not” a strike, Armstead said.

“I think we all agree we want to do more. We’re going to work very hard to ensure that we can do more, but for every dollar that we add to this then that’s something else we’re not going to be doing,” Armstead said.

“What we have done, while I know it will not satisfy everyone and I recognize the frustration that’s out there, but it’s certainly what I think is responsible and what we can do at this point especially since we’re putting $29 million in additional revenue over into PEIA.”

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