CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Harrison County Schools were among the first in the state to determine that they wouldn’t be opening school doors Thursday.
“We have gotten no direction from the state level,” Dr. Mark Manchin said. “My people, we’re sitting here. I’ve been sitting here all day, back and forth with all of our associations, our locals… just waiting for some sort of direction other than, ‘We’ve got a deal.'”
The pay raise bill proposed by Gov. Justice Tuesday night passed the House Finance Committee unanimously Wednesday evening, but Senate President Mitch Carmichael believes there is not enough support in his chamber to pass it.
“I talked to my Senators,” Manchin said. “They’re not sure it’s going to pass tomorrow.”
That puts Manchin, the Superintendent of Harrison County schools, in a precarious situation.
“If there are pickets out, I can not believe those bus drivers will cross those picket lines in any county.”
That, Manchin added, would create an unsafe situation for students.
“They’re not going to cross, we can’t let them out, and we can’t take them back home. I’m not going to go through that.”
State School Superintendent Steve Paine said Wednesday afternoon he had expected every county public school in the state to be open Thursday, in what was supposed to be the end of the statewide work stoppage based on a framework agreement announced Tuesday night by Gov. Justice.
“Here’s my question: was the announcement by the Governor, and the WVEA, AFT, the service personnel, all of those, was that all in good faith?” Manchin said.
Manchin has kept in touch with local union representation throughout the day, saying just about everybody remained in the dark throughout the day Thursday.
“To send them back into schools with a majority of people in my county who don’t want to go back, who intend to stay out, would not be prudent. It just wouldn’t be prudent. It wouldn’t be safe. It wouldn’t be prudent, and it would show a lack of support for our teachers and our service personnel. My Board of Education, and myself, simply don’t want that to happen.”
The Harrison County Education Association released the following statement on their Facebook page Wednesday night.
“To many of my friends outside the teaching profession you may not understand why the strike is continuing into tomorrow when the national media said that we are going back to school. It is our every intent to go back to school tomorrow, but we are subject to the whims of politics. We are not negotiating with a company. We are negotiating with a legislature and governor. We have had many long conversations with our peers and with our legislators and with our school district officials. Nobody takes the closing of schools tomorrow lightly. The future of education in West Virginia is what is at stake. This state is bleeding teachers because we are not taking care of them. We have to have the best people in the charge of our children. We see destruction ahead and as a community of educators we are standing in the way to block that destruction and preserve the public good. You may not understand what you see in the short term, but I assure you we are looking out for the long term for all of the students in our communities.
For those of you who are praying people I would remind you of this proverb to help you pray to bring resolve to the situation. Pray for our leaders. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord…” Proverbs 21:1a”
Whether schools will open Friday is just as unclear, Manchin said.
“Literally hour-by-hour,” he said. “I mean, literally, hour-by-hour.”
More than 10 county school systems had already announced closures by 7 p.m. Wednesday, with a handful of others operating under a two-hour delay.
“For safety reasons, and for support of teachers and service personnel, I’m cancelling, and I’m waiting for tomorrow. And then I’ll make a decision tomorrow.”
In Monongalia County, AFT-Monongalia has advised teachers to return to work in light of the executive order issued by Gov. Justice earlier Thursday, the PEIA freeze, and the movement of the H.B. 4145 in the House of Delegates.
“Union leadership this evening made a statement that the best course of action at this point is to return to school tomorrow.
The payraise bill has passed the House. The Governor has released his new revenue estimate and issued the executive order creating the PEIA Task Force. The PEIA Finance Board has frozen our insurance terms for 16 months. AFT-WV leadership has indicated that is enough of a good faith effort to return to work…for now.
Our work is not done. It is entirely possible that the Senate Chamber could NOT pass the payraise bill and this tenuous agreement will fall apart. The Senate has adjourned til tomorrow and they will vote on the bill then. Waiting is painful, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
We are advising a return to work tomorrow and continued vigilance regarding the legislature’s action in Charleston.
In Unity, Sam Brunett”
State-level union reps announced in a press conference Wednesday night they’d support teachers and service personnel that remain out Thursday.