CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia teacher union leaders say the best course of action is for all teachers and school service personnel to return to school Friday, but they believe not everyone will.
“Our belief is that we should be back in the classroom, but with that being said, there are many people who are not ready to go back in,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, and Joe White, executive director West Virginia School Service Personnel Association also appeared on “Talkline” at the state Capitol where thousands of teachers returned for Day 6 of the statewide teacher strike.
Counties across West Virginia started announcing schools will be closed Friday shortly after hearing the Senate would not take up Governor Jim Justice’s new pay raise bill Thursday. The bill to give teachers a 5 percent raise and all other state workers a 3 percent raise passed the House of Delegates Wednesday. It’s currently pending in the Senate Finance Committee.
Teachers are still pushing for a permanent funding solution for the Public Employees Health Insurance Agency. White said his members might continue to strike even if the pay raise plan clears the Senate.
“I don’t know that it would end some of the local folks that’s doing it. Do I think it would have a huge impact on getting them back to work? Yes,” he said.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Thursday he wants to take the $58 million that Governor Jim Justice found for the pay raise and direct it toward PEIA. Carmichael said he would also prefer keeping the 2-1-1 pay raise already signed into law by the governor.
Campbell said a lot of what teachers are concerned about, at this point, is that they haven’t seen anything in writing. She said they don’t trust the governor or Senate leadership.
“We’re talking about a lot of distrust here that’s been building. Now we have a situation where people are saying you put this otu there and now you’re saying you’re not going to run it? That does not make them feel like public education is at the forefront,” she said.
Pay and health insurance issues have been on the minds of educators for years, Campbell said.
“We didn’t generate this energy,” she said. “What’s been happening for the last four years generated this energy.”
Lee said it’s now up to the Senate to take action and get people back to work.
“The ball is in the Senate’s court right now. If they will show movement on the bill, if they will pass the bill, then it’s up to us to go back to our members and say here’s what it is — you wanted proof? Here’s the proof,” he said.