WHEELING, W.Va. — “Smart, underpaid and underappreciated” was how Governor Jim Justice described West Virginia’s teachers and school service workers in Ohio County during the first of three scheduled Town Hall meetings on Monday as a statewide strike continued.

However, “You need to be back in classrooms, our kids need to back in classrooms,” Justice told a vocal crowd who gathered to start the day at Wheeling Park High School.

He later repeatedly said, though, he was not putting pressure on those striking to return, “That’s your decision.”


Earlier this month, Justice signed into law a pay raise of two percent more next year for teachers, school service workers and State Police.

With the legislation that got approval from both the state Senate and state House of Delegates, teachers would then see one percent during each of the next two years with one percent more for an additional year in the other employment categories.

As for the potential for larger pay raises in the coming year, “You’re swimming upstream and you need to be in the classroom,” he told those in attendance.

In Wheeling, Justice pledged to create a task force within the next seven to ten days to work to identify potential permanent funding sources for the Public Employees Insurance Agency and address other education issues.

He said educators would be on that task force.

Justice also told the Wheeling crowd he would support calling a Special Session later this year, not to take up education issues, but to address natural gas proposals tied to co-tenancy and joint development or forced pooling.

A co-tenancy bill has already passed the House and is pending in the Senate in the final two weeks of this year’s Regular Legislative Session.

Only after agreement was reached on those gas issues, Justice said, could he back a proposal to raise the natural gas severance tax to fund PEIA permanently, one of the main issues for those striking and their union representatives.

“If monies come and we can generate additional severance dollars from gas, I will dedicate whatever portion it needs to be dedicated to to fix PEIA permanently,” he pledged.

“The biggest gift that I’ve been able to deliver you is changing in 12 months the most hideous, terrible financial numbers in the world to numbers that look hopeful,” Justice said in Wheeling.

In addition to his stop at Wheeling Park High School, Justice was scheduled to hold similar Town Halls Monday at both Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg and University High School in Morgantown.

The Monday Town Halls were the first public events Justice had held since the start of walkouts last Thursday.

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