MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — They listened, they tried to cool off, and now they’re back at their informational pickets across the state.
“The reason that we are back out here today, I do believe, is that we don’t have anything in writing,” said Tina McElwain, a Monongalia County bus driver.
McElwain wasn’t alone. Across Monongalia County — and the state — school personnel were visible, saying they’re unified about what they want even if the Governor and legislative leaders are not.
“It seems like the Senate Leadership hasn’t listened to anything that the Governor has had to say,” said Teresa Richardson, a librarian at Mountain View Elementary School. “And they are not willing to compromise on anything.”
Thursday was supposed to be the first day back in the classroom for everybody after Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference Tuesday night announcing he’d struck a deal with union leaders. Those same leaders encouraged their members to return to work, but that message was quickly ignored as it became clear that a pay raise bill would not pass through both chambers of the Legislature Wednesday.
“What we’re hoping to find is that long-term funding source for PEIA so that this same scenario doesn’t play out every year,” Richardson said.
The pay raise bill, five percent next year for all school personnel, was part of a package that included the creation of a task force to solve long-term problems plaguing the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency. Gov. Jim Justice signed an executive order authorizing the creation of that task force Wednesday.
That was a good idea, Richardson said — further suggesting that the task force exist beyond 2020.
“Even if every so many years, they come together just to look at anything that needs changed and look for new ideas,” she said.
Teachers and service personnel won a number of other concessions, as a number of perceived anti-union and anti-teacher bills were pulled from their respective chambers. Still, the buzz of continuing the work stoppage remained. That led to a flurry of school closures in spite of statements by the Governor, the State School Superintendent, and union leadership in support of open schools Thursday.
Dr. Mark Manchin, Superintendent of Schools in Harrison County, said he wasn’t willing to risk creating picket lines by opening schools Thursday without a completed deal — creating a situation where students were aboard buses, but with nowhere to go.
Richardson said that likely would have happened across the state — particularly in Monongalia County –one of the final schools to close Wednesday night.
“I think it very well may have played out the same way.”
Responding to Sen. Mitch Carmichael’s proposal to divert the Governor’s funding for H.B. 4145 into money for PEIA, Richardson said the idea was intriguing.
“But not if it’s only one time dollars,” she said.
More than 40 counties have already closed school for Friday.