CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill giving teachers and service personnel a 2 percent raise next year, even as both groups were preparing to walk out the last two days of this week.
Justice said that members of the West Virginia Legislature “did the responsible thing to help our teachers and state employees” by passing the pay raise package on Tuesday.
“We need to keep our kids and teachers in the classroom,” Justice said. “We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue.”
Teachers would receive an average 2 percent raise next year and an average 1 percent raise each of the two following years.
Service personnel and uniformed and administrative State Police would receive average 2 percent raises next year and another average 1 percent raise the following year.
Teachers have said the 2 percent figure isn’t enough to lure new educators to West Virginia classrooms or to encourage current teachers to stay.
Today in testimony before the House Education Committee, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said 5 percent next year is a better number.
He said one of the early structures of the plan had an average 1 percent a year over a five-year period.
“Why don’t we frontload the 5 percent?” Lee asked.
“I don’t think 5 percent the first year is unreasonable,” Lee added.
“Where would you get the money?” asked Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, a member of the committee.
Lee made reference to the sugary drink tax or increased severance taxes, getting some negative head nods from Republican members of the committee.
He also said some other spending could be sacrificed to make way for raises for teachers and service personnel.
And Lee continued the push for greater stability for the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Justice asked that the plan be frozen for the next year and a half, but teachers have said that’s just a short-term fix.
“You have to look at ways to help offset the increasing cost of health insurance. Fully fund means different things to different people,” Lee said.
As has happened several times in recent days, lawmakers asked Lee about a MetroNews article from last year in which teachers union leaders expressed enthusiasm for a 2-percent pay raise that had been proposed by Governor Justice.
Back then, Lee said, “I’m glad that he recognized that we have to address the teacher salary issue to attract quality teachers to the classroom.”
“Help us understand what’s changed,” said House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa.
Back then, Lee said today, the state faced an estimated budget shortfall of a half-billion dollars. So to be considering any raise in that context was praiseworthy.
“To come up with 2 percent at a time when you had to raise, at least, $500 million, we applauded him for that,” Lee said.
This year, as the governor described better times ahead, Justice initially proposed only 1 percent.
“He proclaimed the state was doing great. We had turned the corner. All things were good,” Lee said. “When you’re proposing 1 percent when you anticipate a $32 million surplus and you believe the surplus is going to grow, 1 percent is not enough.
“When you’re saying happy days are here again and the sky is blue in West Virginia, to teachers that’s not enough.”