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WV teachers, service personnel gather at candlelight vigil

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A candlelight vigil of teachers and service personnel at the state Capitol began and ended with “Country Roads.”

Much of the vigil took place surrounding the statue of “Lincoln Walks at Midnight.” Teachers and service personnel gave a few spontaneous speeches but mostly sang.

At the close, dozens of participants walked toward the Capitol steps, singing “Country Roads” as they went.

All public schools in West Virginia are closed again on Monday as teachers and service personnel again authorized a walkout over pay and healthcare.

So far, the cancellations have been treated like snow days, to be made up at the end of the school year. The state school board may add an agenda item for a previously-scheduled Tuesday meeting to decide what, if any, action to take.

At least 5,100 teachers poured into the Capitol last Thursday. About 4,000 were estimated to have been inside the Capitol on Friday.

Cecil Roberts

Many more are expected at the Capitol on Monday as another rally is planned for 2 p.m. on the Capitol steps. Among the expected speakers is United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts.

Additional teachers and service personnel will be protesting outside their local schools.

Gov. Jim Justice

Meanwhile, Governor Jim Justice has Town Hall meetings planned for 8:30 a.m. Monday at Wheeling Park High School, 11:30 a.m. at Spring Mills High in Martinsburg and 1:30 p.m. at University High School in Morgantown.

The Legislature last week voted for a pay increase that would provide teachers, service personnel and State Police an average 2 percent raise next fiscal year. The structure provides two additional years of average 1 percent raises for teachers and one more year for the other two employee classes.

Teachers, though, have said that amount is not enough to encourage beginning educators or to keep veteran classroom leaders in the profession.

Public employees have also complained about skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for their health plans. The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board, at the governor’s urging, froze the plan for the coming fiscal year — costing the state an estimated $29 million.

But public employees have said that’s a short-term fix. They would like guarantees of stability in the coming years.

Lucinda Burns, a teacher at Point Harmony Elementary, said too little has been done at the Legislature over the past few weeks.

“We feel like it is time to do this, take a stand for not only ourselves but for our students, public employees from across the state of West Virginia,” Burns said Sunday evening at the vigil.

“We haven’t been getting our share of the pie. It is there. We’re not getting it, and we’d like to have it.”

Zanetta Stallworth, a staff representative for service personnel with American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, led many of the songs that were sung during Sunday’s rally.

“You have to stand united. If you don’t stand united, you fall,” Stallworth said.

“Everybody has a significant role. We have to bond together as one, all together as one, to get the results taht we need.”

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