CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s teachers and service personnel will be out of schools again on Monday. It’s possible the walkout could continue after that, too.
The leaders of the two teachers unions and the service personnel association made the announcement Friday afternoon during a packed news conference in a state Capitol conference room.
Teachers who were in the room — and outside in the hallway let up a cheer as the announcement was made by West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Christine Campbell and Joe White, the executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 23, 2018
“It’s clear that education employees are not satisfied with the inaction of legislative leaders or the governor to date,” Lee said.
“Our members have spoken and are not prepared to go back to work yet. Therefore teachers and service professionals across the state of West Virginia will continue to be out on Monday.”
Talk at the Capitol had been the possibility of rolling walkouts, which would have involved a few counties going out at a time. Lee said teachers and service personnel ruled that out.
Members of the organizations had authorization votes in 55 counties to determine how to proceed, Campbell said.
“We’ve heard our members loud and clear,” Lee said. “They’re not ready.”
Counties have closed schools the past two days, allowing work to be made up later in the year. But it’s unclear if that will continue.
“Educators will go back and tell their superintendents ‘There’s not going to be enough people to man the schools on Monday. We would suggest that you call school off.’ And I would hope they would understand that and do the same thing,” Lee said.
If keeps happening, schools will likely continue later into the summer.
“If schools are closed, then we have to make up the days as teachers,” Campbell said. “If schools aren’t closed and they keep them open and people still don’t show up for work that changes the situation.”
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has said the walkouts are illegal, and he has said he is prepared to take action on behalf of the state or a county government. But that hasn’t happened so far. Lee and Campbell confirmed they met with Morrisey earlier Friday.
“We’ve known from the beginning that was a possibility,” Campbell said.
Lee said negotiations need to begin again with Gov. Jim Justice and with leadership in the Senate and House of Delegates.
Justice was at the Capitol on Friday, meeting with various news outlets. But Campbell and Lee said they hadn’t met with him for a while. Justice was elected with teachers unions backing his candidacy.
“We’ve had conversations with his office, but we’ve not had conversations with him personally for a while,” Campbell said.
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.
“We have to see some commitment to the issues we have been talking about the last several years and especially the last few days,” Campbell said. “We want to see a commitment from the Legislature to address these issues. That commitment will determine how we proceed. It’s in their hands.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, speaking to reporters a few minutes after the news conference ended, said he still believes teachers and service personnel should be in classrooms next week.
“Again, I’m very disappointed that the leaders of the teachers unions have called the strike,” Carmichael said. “It is a strike. It’s an illegal strike. There’s no question about it. I think it sends a bad message to not only our students but the citizens of West Virginia.”