CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The president of the West Virginia Education Association sees the potential for additional pay raises for teachers and state workers next year as progress, but not a final destination.
“That starts to make us competitive, but it can’t be something that you then forget about for the next five years,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
As proposed, another five percent hike on top of the five percent increase that took effect earlier this year would put starting teacher salaries at roughly $37,500 on average.
Lee continues to push for the 2019 goal of an average of $43,000 for starting salaries that was included in 2014 legislation raising teacher pay by $1,000.
“We have to have a long-range plan of how to get our salaries competitive with the contiguous states so that we’re attracting people in the profession and keeping them in the profession and keeping them in West Virginia,” he said.
Lee was in New Zealand as a guest speaker for two education groups there last week when Gov. Jim Justice announced his teacher and state worker five percent pay raise proposal along with his intentions to dedicate $100 million in surplus state money to PEIA.
Justice said the plans were possible because tax collections in West Virginia have exceeded estimates by more than $119 million in the first three months of fiscal year.
The PEIA Task Force has not met since August.
“Simply putting an additional $100 million into it, which is a good thing for a couple of years, but we were charged with the task of coming up with a long-term fix for PEIA,” said Lee who sits on the Task Force.
On the issue of pay, Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) last week pledged to back the pay raise proposal during the 2018 Regular Legislative Session.
“It’s just a fantastic proposal and I can guarantee that this will occur in the next legislative session,” Carmichael said.
“I will believe things when I see them,” Lee said in response.
“You can promise anything, it’s your actions (that decide) and that’s what the people will see and that’s what the people will vote on — the actions that you take while you’re there.”
He continued, “The Senate has a record of what they’ve done, what they stand for, what they believe is best,” Lee said. “You can’t run away from a record even when you hire a private firm to try to slant the message.”
Lee was referring to a story from West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Dave Mistich about the public relations firm, Mercury, hired to work with some leading West Virginia Senate Republicans on messaging about this year’s teacher walkout and the economy.
Mistich reported Mercury has ties to the FBI’s Russia investigation.