CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Teachers and service personnel in Harrison County bundled up Tuesday to unite on picket lines outside of the schools, sending the message that they’ll turn down a pay raise to stop Senate Bill 451.
The omnibus education bill made its way through the state Senate Monday night with an 18-16 vote, but with the additions of education savings accounts and charter school.
Elizabeth Stearns, a fifth grade teacher at Nutter Fort Intermediate School, said she wasn’t surprised by Monday’s outcome.
“I didn’t necessarily expect to be here today, but I didn’t expect it to go well in the Senate,” Stearns said.
“Personally I was more satisfied with what came out of the House, but knowing that it had to go back to the House it was kind of a moot point,” she said. “It was like, ‘Well this looks better, sounds better,’ but it didn’t stay that way.”
Stearns was one of dozens of Nutter Fort’s educators out front of the school rallying Tuesday, “fighting for what it means to work in public education and to support the public education system.
“Because I am a product of public education, and I feel like it really is the backbone of our community and the future for our students,” she said.
But this year’s fight is much different than what Stearns and others were up against last year.
During the 2018 Legislative Session, teachers were fighting for a much needed pay raise. This time, they’re telling legislatures that they’re willing to go without it to support their students.
“Last year it was more about us and what we needed. This year it’s about our students,” Stearns said. “I mean, the bill will directly affect our students and will directly the public education system, so this is really about stopping something that we feel will be detrimental for our students.”
The bill, which includes educator incentives like pay raises and additional funding for school support staff and security, also includes things such as removing senority, increasing class sizes and differential pay.
But the largest concerns among educators are educational savings accounts and charter schools.
“I think if you look at what’s been happening in other states, it’s just trying something and it’s been proven that it’s not been successful,” said Carole Crawford, a retired educator and former principal of Bridgeport Middle School.
Crawford, who rallied with Stearnes and others at Nutter Fort, spent 35 year working in public education.
She’s seen the benefits first hand and knows why today’s teachers are fearing these items of the bill.
“Public education is so valuable and so important for all children,” she said. “In charter schools, I think that you would get to where it wouldn’t be for all students, it would be just for the select few and it would take away from public education where we can work with all students and be inclusive.”
Though Crawford is no longer in the classroom or an administrator, even as a retiree she felt compelled to join the fight for not only those teaching today but tomorrow’s future educators.
“I’m out to support the teachers, the students, and 55 strong,” she said. “I think it’s important that retirees are part of this movement because we’ve all enjoyed a wonderful career in education, and we want the same for our grandchildren and our families.”
How long will this year’s work action last?
Stearns said, “As long as it takes.
“We were out here, what was it nine days last year. I mean, I hope it doesn’t take that long,” she said. “I think that hopefully they see our point, as we have tried to listen to them, but I just don’t think that we are being listened to. So we’ll see.”
And if being listened to means the entire bill fails, including the pay raise, Stearns said that’s fine.
“That’s not necessarily ideal since the pay raise was promised from the Governor, but personally, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes,” she said. “No one is in this for the money, so that’s not the first important issue to us. I think everybody here would agree with that.”
Crawford applauds the educators taking such a strong stance.
“And don’t you think that was unique in Charleston, so that as teachers we come out and say we don’t want the bill and we’re cutting off our own pay raise and possibly a fix to PEIA,” she said. “I think that’s some dirty doings happening, absolutely.”