CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A day after more than 5,100 people came to the state Capitol to rally for greater pay and benefits for teachers and other public employees, thousands again arrived to hold signs and chant.

“It was very empowering, and I think it will be just as energetic today,” said Kacie Atha, a fourth grade teacher in Kanawha County. “Teachers deserve better benefits and better pay in this state. I get the sense that our general public is listening. Not necessarily our delegates and our senators.

“Unless the powers that be intervene, yes, I believe we’ll be here again next week.”

Friday’s crowd didn’t fill in as quickly as it did the prior day, the first of two planned walkouts. But the teachers and service employees were every bit as boisterous.

The Legislature, earlier this week, voted for a pay increase that would provide teachers, service personnel and State Police an average 2 percent raise next fiscal year. The structure provides two additional years of average 1 percent raises for teachers and one more year for the other two employee classes.

Teachers, though, have said that amount is not enough to encourage beginning educators or to keep veteran classroom leaders in the profession.

Public employees have also complained about skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for their health plans. The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board, at the governor’s urging, froze the plan for the coming fiscal year — costing the state an estimated $29 million.

But public employees have said that’s a short-term fix. They would like guarantees of stability in the coming years.

So Thursday and today, teachers and public service personnel walked out of schools. Thousands have been gathering at the state Capitol, where emotions have run high.

HOPPY KERCHEVAL: Teacher and service worker strike: Day 2

The groups have focused much of their ire on Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who has said the steps taken so far are what the state can afford right now. Carmichael has blamed the current situation on “union bosses.”

Teacher Kathy Barnette of Nicholas County was carrying a sign that said, ” Mitch Carmichael, laughing at teachers.”

It was a reference to a smile Carmichael gave after quickly recessing last Friday as teachers observed from the gallery and then an expression Carmichael gave after coming out to look at teachers from the Senate steps on Thursday.

“I saw a lot of videos with a smirk,” Barnette said Friday morning.

Another teacher, Marcy Lilly from Raleigh County, carried a sign that said “We support our union bosses.”

“We support our union bosses because we are our union bosses. We are in charge,” she said.

Lilly said she’s rallying for stable health insurance as well as a raise of at least 5 percent.

“That means across the board for everybody — school bus drivers, cooks, custodians. Don’t leave anybody out. Nurses, counselors. Everybody needs to be included.”

Princess Moss

Among those who gathered at the Capitol on Friday was Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association.

“As educators from around the country watch this, we see that our teachers in West Virginia are fighting for student learning conditions,” Moss said. “Student learning conditions are educator working conditions.”

“This is historic. This is historic. For West Virginia, a right-to-work state, we’re sending a loud message. A very clear message that banding together we can make a difference.”

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