FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Educators and service personnel throughout the state are preparing for the two-day work stoppage, but employees of Marion County Schools are prepared to stay out as long as it takes.
“Our teachers are so disgusted with the legislature and they’re tired of waiting that it seems like these teachers would be willing to do more,” said Allyson Perry, president of the Marion County Education Association.
Those frustrated employees met Tuesday in the auditorium of East Fairmont High School for “Mobilize Marion County,” a meeting designed to educate teachers and service personnel on what Thursday and Friday’s work stoppage means for them locally.
“For right now we are just sticking with Thursday and the Friday to give the Legislature an opportunity to make us a deal,” Perry said.
Susan Brooks, a second grade teacher at East Park Elementary School, is one of those who is ready for immediate action.
“I didn’t go into teaching for the money. I love my students. It kills me to be out of the classroom, and I think all of the teachers will say that. We’re here for the kids, but everything that the legislature is doing is hurting our students,” Brooks said. “We’re upset now because they keep doing things that are going to negatively impact education, not just this year but for generations to come.”
Teachers and service personnel still view a strike as a last resort, but Brooks said she’ll do whatever it takes for her students.
“I talked to my second graders, and we had a talk about that,” she said. “I told them this wasn’t about them. It was about looking for their future. So, if we have to go out, it’s for the students and the kids.”
While the two-day work stoppage is not a “strike,” educators are aware that could be the next step, and among the anger and frustration toward the state’s legislators also exists a fear for their jobs, their families and their students if that does occur.
“I think for many of the teachers the concerns are getting fired, which, you know, that’s always a concern with a strike because it is illegal,” Perry said.
Additional concerns expressed Tuesday included not receiving pay during the strike, lapsed coverage of their PEIA health insurance and the days on strike not counting toward seniority.
“When it comes to a full strike, there’s a lot of considerations that need to be made,” Perry said. “Right now, we’re not there yet. We’re just doing a work stoppage to give the Legislature an opportunity to make us a deal that has been better than what they’ve given us so far. Because, one, two percent is not enough, and the band-aids on PEIA is not enough.”
Bills have entered the legislature within the past week searching for options to fund PEIA, proposing everything from a “sugary drink tax” to using a portion of the revenue from sports betting.
“I am open to any talk of PEIA, so I will not discount that because I think any talk is good talk. It means that there is some movement within the legislature and within their individual committees,” Perry said.
However, she, along with thousands of others, believes more can be done.
“I think what people want, not only teachers and service personnel but also state workers, too, they want to see a long-range plan,” she said. “They don’t want to see something for the next 17 months. They want to see something that will ensure that we can afford PEIA and keep people insured at a reasonable rate.”
As teachers and educators await more action from Charleston, many will be spending their work stoppage days this week rallying together at the state capitol in Charleston.
“And then lots will also be staying here and doing informational pickets outside of the schools because we want to be visible within the community but then we also want to put pressure on Charleston too,” Perry said.
Perry, along with numerous Marion County teachers and service personnel, was part of the Statewide Day of Action Rally in Charleston Saturday, which she described as a “wonderful” experience.
“For me it was so invigorating because you’re surrounded by thousands. I’ve heard 10,000 people were there,” she said. “You’re all there to support one cause, really, of making sure that we ensure we have quality teachers so we can have a quality education system for our kids. We’re only going to get that by attracting those quality teachers, so we have to have the good insurance, we have to at least have a competitive wage, and we need to protect our seniority so people want to stay and teach here.”
Brooks believes part of the disconnect is that legislators fail to realize how challenging it is to be a teacher, not only in West Virginia but anywhere throughout the United States.
“We’re grading papers at night, we’re doing lesson plans, we’re looking for things,” Brooks said. “The amount of money and our own time that we spend to make our classrooms run smoothly is astounding, and I don’t think anybody knows how much we put into it to make the growth for each and every one of our kids.”
“And they are our kids,” she added.
Knowing the mood and response from educators in Marion County, Perry’s next step will be to relay that information to the state union leaders, AFT-West Virginia President Christine Campbell and WVEA President Dale Lee.
“Ultimately, we voted to authorize based on their discretion. We do not make the decision, I can only share the way people are feeling,” Perry said. “Ultimately, our county voted overwhelmingly to give Dale and Christine that discretion to call whatever type of action that may be, and we will support whatever type of action that may be.”
Building representatives from each Harrison County school also met Tuesday to outline a plan of action.
In Monongalia County, teachers agreed during a meeting Tuesday to hold a series of informational pickets outside of schools, hold food drives for students who rely on the free or reduced lunch program, and set up carpooling so teachers could go to Charleston.