CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a pay raise bill that includes teachers, school service workers and State Police.

The vote was 89 in favor, eight against with three delegates not voting. There was also a paired vote, which is parliamentary agreement to tie a no vote with a yes vote. The no vote was Delegate Tom Bibby, D-Berkeley, and the yes was Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion. Caputo was not present, but Bibby was.

Mark Dean

“If we can’t pay our teachers a competitive rate, we’ll keep losing teachers to other states,” said Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, vice chairman of the House Education Committee and principal of an elementary school in Gilbert.

This was a bill requested by the governor and promised during an announcement in the governor’s reception room back on Oct. 2. During that announcement, the governor was surrounded by other elected leaders, mostly members of the Republican majorities.

West Virginia Legislature

Mike Pushkin

“We’re here because a couple of weeks before the general election the governor and other elected officials promised this pay raise,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

“This is about keeping promises. I wholeheartedly support this bill.”

But earlier in the legislative session, the pay raise was bundled with other provisions such as charter schools, education savings accounts, more county school board control over levy rates, a base of at least 1,400 students per county for funding purposes and more money for counselors and other health services.

Teachers unions objected to wrapping all those provisions together and finally went on strike for two days earlier this week until that version of the bill was killed in a House procedural vote.

The bill that includes just the pay raises now goes to the Senate, where its support is far less clear. The Republican majority in the Senate was intent on the other changes, and several of those senators say they have already voted for teacher pay raises in the bigger versions of the bill.

Tom Takubo

Speaking Friday morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo said teacher pay raises need to be brought up to be competitive with other states.

“I can’t speak for my entire caucus,” said Takubo, R-Kanawha. “A lot of people felt we absolutely supported not only a 5 percent pay raise but there was so much other good stuff to help not only with paid incentives to get specific needs taken care of in the state in that bill.

“And it was rejected, and we’ve had thousands of emails saying ‘Keep it; we don’t want it.’ That was not trying to keep a pay raise hostage. We 100 percent believe people needed that raise, but we needed a lot more. We had about $68 million more in public education we were trying to invest there.”

The bill that passed the House included teachers, school personnel and State Police because their pay scales are defined in state code. The governor promised pay raises for other state workers too. Lawmakers intend to deal with those other pay raises through the regular budget process.

Despite the wide margin of the vote in the House, there was vigorous debate.

Tom Bibby

Delegate Bibby spoke out most vigorously against the bill.

He suggested teachers and State Police should be considered in separate bills because they are in separate sections of code and because their situations are different.

“Have the State Police ever struck? Walked out?” Bibby asked.

He continued, “I’m 110 percent behind police. Unfortunately they’re stuck in a bill here where we’re going to give a pay raise to people who walked off the job.”

Other delegates were concerned about cost. The pay raises for teachers and service personnel are $67.7 million a year. The raises for State Police are $1.8 million.

Pat McGeehan

Once the raises are in code, the state will be responsible for paying from here on out. Delegate Pat McGeehan wondered about the possibility of a downturn in the economy.

“I think what’s going to happen is, to be practical about it, those surpluses are not sustainable,” said McGeehan, who wound up voting against the bill.

Delegate Eric Nelson, a former Finance chairman, also questioned whether the numbers are sustainable. He noted pipeline construction that will curtail, road work that may have limited economic stimulus and the regional nature of growth in West Virginia.

“I just put a word of caution. I will be voting for that but with a word of caution,” said Nelson, R-Kanawha.

About four hours before the House vote to pass the pay raise bill, 24 people turned out for an early morning Finance Committee public hearing on the bill. Sixteen spoke for it, eight against.

Both sides had common themes. Opponents argued that state troopers deserve a raise, but not teachers or service workers who engaged in an illegal strike and closed the schools.

Opponent Shirley Searls said that when students are getting better test scores and teachers have better attitudes, then it will be time for a raise. “We can’t do it if we have the unions controlling our teachers.”

Another theme among the opponents was school choice: education savings accounts and charter schools offered in SB 451.

Jessi Troyan, with the Cardinal Institute, said the price tag for the raises in the bill is about $68 million. “What are we getting for that $68 million?” No alternatives for families to deal with the state’s many educational challenges.”

Speaking for the bill, Kaylen Barker said, “Now is not the time for retaliation, parliamentary tricks or half-truths. … Invest in the future and pass the teacher pay raise bill.”

Supporters defended the unions, saying they’re the voice of their members, not dictators controlling their actions.

And they talked about West Virginia teachers’ comparative low pay.

“They’re woefully underpaid. They’re woefully underappreciated,” said Joseph Cohen, a father of two school-age boys.

And Robin Daquilante pointed out the average pay in West Virginia is $45,390, compared to $58,900 nationally, $53,140 in Kentucky and $68,460 in Virginia.

“Is it any wonder why we have a shortage of 1,000 teachers in West Virginia?” she said.

Dominion Post reporter David Beard contributed to this story.

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