FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The Capitol will be louder than ever Monday, as Delegates, union reps, and teachers call on as many school personnel as possible to return to Charleston.
“I hope and pray that I’m going to see a wave of teachers and school service personnel rocking the halls of Charleston tomorrow,” said Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion, 50). “Rocking the halls of Charleston tomorrow, and putting the pressure on those conference committees.”
Caputo spoke Sunday at a rally of about 200 people at Fairmont’s Palatine Park, following a whirlwind of events Saturday that saw the House and Senate fail to reconcile differences in their two bills in time to avoid the statewide teacher work stoppage stretch into its eighth day.
“It was extreme disappointment,” said Ellen Costlow, a second grade teacher at Watson Elementary School. “It was a roller coaster beyond roller coasters of all the loop-the-loops of what was going on.”
Costlow said she spent most of her day Saturday watching a combination of live video streams of floor sessions and committee hearings on her phone and computer, while taking screenshots of everything that was going on as proof.
“I actually, had I not been listening first-hand, I would not have believed it,” she said. “I would have thought somebody was pulling my leg.”
It wasn’t until 1:30 p.m. Saturday that the Senate Finance Committee met — and with a packed agenda to boot. It took well over an hour to finally get to H.B. 4145, the five percent pay raise bill Governor Jim Justice proposed Tuesday and that the House of Delegates passed 98-1 on Wednesday.
“We were prepared to go back,” said Aaron Hostutler, a music teacher at East Park Elementary. “But they tabled the bill for, what, half a week? And then amended it — for a third time.”
Instead, Sen. Greg Boso (R-Nicholas, 11) proposed an amendment that would provide all state employees an across-the-board four percent pay raise, citing a desire for fairness. But that was lower than the five percent state school personnel union reps had negotiated with the Governor’s Office early last week, and the controversial amendment received significant debate and attention before eventually passing by a slim 9-8 margin.
“We voted them into office,” Costlow said. “And they turned around, and their actions have spoken louder than words.”
The amendment passed despite more than 40 county school superintendents from across the state endorsing H.B. 4145 as it was originally written. Once the amended version of the bill passed, there was a mix-up over which version of the bill actually passed the Senate and how many times it had actually been read on the chamber floor.
“Obviously, rules don’t apply to (Senate President) Mitch (Carmichael),” Hostutler said. “That definitely was a third reading of the bill. Somehow he got away with not doing the procedures correctly, which is pretty crazy.”
The House of Delegates unanimously refused to concur with the Senate Finance Committee’s changes.
“Proofreading is important,” Hostutler added.
Caputo found a few friends to join him at the rally Sunday — including several members of the United Mine Workers of America.
“They’ve been beat up way too long,” said Mark Dorsey, a coal miner from Rivesville. “They deserve even more than what’s being offered. They have to stick together, and we are going to stand by them and show them they have support.”
With this latest twist in the ongoing work stoppage saga, Dorsey said it was even more important that teachers stick together and remember their allies.
“Through thick and thin, we’ll be there for them,” he added.
A fired up Mike Caputo railed against GOP Leadership Sunday afternoon, saying they might have found a solution in time to open schools Monday.
“People’s livelihoods are at stake, our kids aren’t in school, and the leadership in the House and the leadership in the Senate refused to have a conference committee meeting today,” Caputo said.
Conference committees, consisting of two Republicans each from the House and Senate and one Democrat each from the House and Senate, are set to meet Monday morning.
Every public school in the state had been confirmed closed early Sunday evening.