BARRACKVILLE, W.Va. — Teachers and service personnel in Marion County are wondering what the next step will be after a two-day statewide work stoppage.
“We’ve done our job for Thursday and Friday. We’ve done these walkouts, and the walkouts or two-day work stoppage, is allowing our legislature to take two days to figure out if they can give us a better package,” said Allyson Perry, president of the Marion County Education Association.
Those employees are back on the picket lines this morning, many outside of their respective schools, while others spend the day in Charleston.
“There’s a lot of anger and frustration. People are fed up,” Perry said.
A majority of educators are already missing their classrooms and their students, still not wanting the fight to come to a full strike.
“Teachers are some of the hardest working people I know, and they’re very, very selfless,” Perry said. “So for teachers and service personnel to come out and demand a raise is kind of different for us because we’re used to putting our heads down, going to work, being with the community’s children every single day and working for them because we want them to have a great future.”
But admist the struggle, Perry said the West Virginia Legislature “awoke a sleeping giant.
“We’ve always been aware of these issues, but everything piled on top one another with the changes to PEIA that were so draconian, with no raise for years, plus a threat on seniority, plus threats on public education with charter school vouchers,” she said. “There’s a lot of other issues.”
PEIA has been at the forefront of the argument, as teachers and other public employees request fully funding in the face of rapidly increasing premiums.
“We are lucky that the PEIA Board did take away some of those changes, like total family income, but there’s still band aids over PEIA,” Perry said. “I think teachers want to see it either worked into the budget or some type of long-term plan to fully fund it.”
Currently on the floor is a bill that would allocate 20 percent of the state’s budget surplus to funding PEIA, but many teachers feel that’s not a solution.
“That concerns me because it’s a surplus, it’s whatever’s left, so there’s no stability,” Perry said.
“If we don’t have a long-term plan, we’re going to be fighting this every single year,” she said. “People eventually are going to get tired of fighting, and then they’re going to move away. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Perry herself only 29-years old and a Pittsburgh-native understands why the state has such difficulty retaining young, quality teachers.
“I’m not from West Virginia originally, but my husband and I love this state, and that’s why we chose to live here, she said. “Some people like us, they move away because they can because they don’t see an end in sight. They’re constantly fighting it, and the people down in Charleston are not on our side.”
That’s why Perry’s so passionate in fighting for competitive wages.
“You can’t have a quality education system without quality teachers, and there’s our real concern,” she said. “There are over 750 vacanies in the state, and one way to attract and retain those quality teachers is paying them a living wage.”
Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill Wednesday that would provide a 4 percent raise over three years — 2 percent raise next year followed by two years of a 1 percent raise for teachers. Service personnel and State Police would receive average 2 percent raises next year and another average 1 percent raise the following year.
“My question is, are the children of West Virginia only worth 4 percent?” Perry said.
“There are some things that definitely need to be changed, not just for us but for the future of West Virginia and for our children.”