3:06pm: Hotline with Dave Weekley

WATCH: Justice calls news conference on teacher issues

6 p.m. Gov. Jim Justice has called a 6 p.m. press conference on West Virginia teacher pay and health insurance.

The leaders of the teachers unions and the service personnel association went back in to meet again with the governor earlier.

We’ll embed the livestream of the comments here:

4 p.m. West Virginia teachers union leaders exited talks with Gov. Jim Justice after about an hour and a half, saying progress had been made but also saying they would need to reconvene in an hour or two.

“We definitely had a productive meeting and we have to go back as soon as he (the Governor) calls us again. It’s going well,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

She added, “They are listening, we are talking and we feel pretty good about it.”

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee added,  “We will let people know later this afternoon what our plans for tomorrow.”

Original story, posted at 1:33 p.m.

The leaders of West Virginia’s teachers unions announced to crowds at the Capitol that they have an afternoon meeting with Gov. Jim Justice this afternoon.

The meeting itself is news.

During a press conference on Friday to announce a coming walkout, Christine Campbell of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia said it had been a while since direct talks with the governor.

Justice, speaking separately with media on Friday, said he hadn’t spoken directly with the union leaders for a couple of weeks.

The afternoon meeting would reopen discussions on the fourth day of statewide teacher walkouts.

Christine Campbell

Campbell, speaking separately with MetroNews today, said she’s encouraged.

“There is a meeting today,” she said. “We were called and asked to come down to his office at 2 o’clock — so that’s movement from yesterday, so that’s great.”

She later added, “We’re hopeful that he wants to come to the table and talk about solutions.”

Campbell said the union leaders have met frequently with House Speaker Tim Armstead as well as sometimes with Senate leadership.

“We’ve met more with Speaker Armstead than probably the Senate or the governor,” Campbell said, “and the Senate has been in some of those meetings. We don’t know if the governor has asked them to participate (today) or not.”

As the leaders of American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association gathered in the Governor’s Office shortly after 2 p.m. they were met by Larry Puccio, a lobbyist and former transition chief for the Justice administration.

Puccio was called in to help with negotiations.

A task force to try to cope with the rising costs of the Public Employees Insurance Agency has been mentioned as a potential path forward in recent days.

“We know there’s only two weeks of the session left. We know they have talked about a task force. But we haven’t seen what that specifically is.

“The commitment has been there to do it but we don’t have a definition of who would be on it, what the priorities would be, what the timeline would be — because if we’re going to talk about PEIA we need to talk about it along with compensation.

“That’s what’s driving people out of West Virginia. We need to talk about things that are going to keep the folks that we have, make sure we have a highly-qualified educator in every content area, in every classroom.”

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. More recently, they have been talking about 5 percent next year.

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.

Gov. Jim Justice

During several appearances around the state on Monday, Governor Justice reiterated his belief that teachers and school service personnel should return to work.

“You need to be back in classrooms, our kids need to back in classrooms,” Justice told a vocal crowd who gathered to start the day at Wheeling Park High School.

The governor also pitched an idea for a special session on natural gas issues. As the governor described it, the agenda could include co-tenancy and joint development drilling issues.

The governor said the result could include an increased severance tax to be applied to greater teacher wages and health care.

Legislative reaction has been cool.

And Campbell said she would rather just focus on education, rather than natural gas.

A crowd of teachers and service personnel gathered outside the Governor’s Office to await the start of negotiations. Until union leaders asked them to quiet down, those who gathered were singing and chanting.

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