MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Everything is in a holding pattern as teachers, school service personnel, and most of the state await a decision of any kind by the State Senate on House Bill 4145, a pay raise bill for teachers proposed by the Governor earlier this week.
That inaction has helped extend the statewide teacher work stoppage from two days initially, to five days, and then to an unexpected sixth and seventh day with an eighth potentially on the horizon.
“It’s not teachers that are holding it up,” said Heather Deluca-Nestor, a Monongalia County teacher and President of the Monongalia County Education Association. “It’s the legislature.”
Days after Gov. Jim Justice proposed a five percent pay raise bill and the creation of a task force to find a long-term fix for PEIA, Deluca-Nestor said teachers can get behind this deal — but not without pen being put to paper.
“It’s not that we just won’t cave in, and we’re being unreasonable with our demands at this point,” Deluca-Nestor said. “(West Virginians) need to understand that nothing has been set in stone.”
She said teachers are doubling down on the work stoppage and waiting for the Senate to pass H.B. 4145 because trust has hit an all-time low among rank-and-file educators.
“We really feel that the focus needs to be taken off of us caving and put on the Legislature,” Deluca-Nestor said.
The proposal by Gov. Justice, announced in a Tuesday night press conference with local, state, and national news outlets watching, didn’t come up with a long-term fix for the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency. While that initially angered educators, Deluca-Nestor said the Governor signing an executive order creating that task force the next day showed good faith.
“We ultimately wanted PEIA fixed,” she said. “We knew that that would not happen over night, but we also would like some ideas on maybe where some funding might come from.”
That good faith, she said, doesn’t appear to have permeated into the State Senate.
“They need to be a team, honestly,” Deluca-Nestor said. “And they’re not a team.”
On Friday’s edition of Morgantown AM on WAJR, several caller suggested teachers needed to return to work and that their community support was fading.
“I think it’s about time that everyone went back to work, because I believe that the teachers have been hi-jacked by a union that lots of them don’t belong to,” said Marlene, a caller in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.
Another caller echoed a similar sentiment.
“We have not had a pay raise in 13 years, my job requires a Bachelor’s Degree, and I make a whole lot less than teachers,” said Keith, a caller from Clarksburg. “I knew this going in.”
“I think the teachers need to get off their high horse, get back to work, because a strike is a strike,” he added.
Deluca-Nestor said remaining out of school actually made more sense, trying to ensure that the legislative process doesn’t fall through. She said risking backlash over returning to school only to simply stop working for a second time wasn’t prudent.
“Lots of teachers felt like, would parents be less upset if we keep going back in and coming back out and going back in when (lawmakers) aren’t holding up their end of the bargain,” she said.
Deluca-Nestor knows legislative process is tough to navigate — the proof appeared Wednesday when it became apparent that the Governor’s pledge wouldn’t be heard by the Senate, resulting in Monongalia County schools being one of the final school systems to announce closure Wednesday night.
“Teachers and service personnel in Monongalia County truly appreciate the continued support of Dr. Devono and the Monongalia County Board of Education,” she said. “We realize he doesn’t have an easy job.”
Superintendents from county school systems across the state are meeting with the State Senate Friday afternoon.