MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice concluded his impromptu tour of northern West Virginia in Morgantown for the third of three town halls Monday.
And, for the third time, teachers and service personnel at University High School didn’t try to hide the obvious: they are not happy with the former Democrat turned Republican Governor.
“I had to leave, because he has a pity party going,” said Sherri Williamson, who is in her 26th year teaching mathematics at Morgantown High School. “Nobody forced him to run for Governor. He’s there for us, not for him. He chose it.”
Williamson was joined by fellow Morgantown High School teacher and AFT-Monongalia President Sam Brunett, who thinks the Governor’s rhetoric throughout the day Monday was counterproductive.
“So far, to be quite honest with you, his speak is not helping things,” Brunett said. “It’s actually throwing a little more fuel on the fire — if you wanted my humble opinion.”
Teachers will continue their work stoppage for a fourth day Tuesday, as every public school in the state shuts down again ahead of a State Board of Education meeting in Charleston.
“(Justice) didn’t have many solutions,” said Rachel Snyder, a Morgantown native whose husband teaches at University High School. “He was very big on announcing how he wasn’t the cause of all the problems and how nothing was his fault.”
There were several heated exchanges involving members of the crowd during the two hour town hall — mostly related to PEIA. Justice’s emotions ranged, at times, from sympathetic to testy and annoyed to outright frustrated.
Sam Brunett, who watched the live stream of the Governor’s first town hall Monday morning in Wheeling, perceived Justice as less adversarial at UHS.
“If he wants to come and he wants to hear the public speak, he needs to be ready to hear intelligent, well-informed people speak,” he said. “Because our teachers are educating themselves.”
Justice did receive significant applause when announcing his opposition to alternative certifications for teachers, the Paycheck Protection Act, and charter school funding — vowing vetoes to the crowd. For English teacher Richard Kyer, that wasn’t enough.
“It’s the same answer,” Kyer said.
That answer isn’t good enough, he added.
“‘No, there’s no way. I can’t do anything. I can’t find anything.'”
Specifically, Kyer was referring to some of the larger issues surrounding the work stoppage — including funding for the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency to account for annual medical inflation costs.
“It’s basically been the same redundant questions over and over with the same redundant answers over and over and over again,” Kyer said.
Early on in the event Monday, Gov. Justice asked the crowd ‘what the last six governors had done’ for teachers, while also recalling a lack of support in his push for teacher pay raises during the 2017 regular legislative session.
“There is a sense of passing the buck and abdication of leadership — a sense of blaming his Republican cohorts,” Kyer said.
Despite the long day, Justice did open with an apology for making the audience wait, while again claiming that he would be an advocate for public education.
“I’m a champion of education,” he said to a laughing audience.
Unmoved by the laughter, Justice made a joke.
“You can giggle if you like.”
Tuesday marks the fourth consecutive school day where all public schools in all of West Virginia’s 55 counties will be closed.