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WV school systems close again after Senate moves raise bill to committee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — School systems across West Virginia were cancelling again for Friday after a teacher pay raise proposal backed by the governor passed the House of Delegates but has yet to move in the Senate.

West Virginia’s school systems had already closed by late Thursday afternoon.

The state Senate on Thursday morning assigned the pay raise bill to Finance Committee, which wasn’t meeting.

“We were hoping to see the 5 percent pay raise go through and PEIA get a permanent fix,” said Marilyn Taylor, a teacher from Roane County.

She added, “We’ll be back tomorrow.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, at multiple times Thursday, made three points about the decisions in that chamber.

He said the $58 million revenue increase announced Tuesday evening by Gov. Jim Justice can’t be trusted at face value. Carmichael said the adjustment was made under the continued pressure of statewide walkouts.

Carmichael said teachers are already in line for an average 2 percent raise next year after a bill the governor signed into law.

And, if anything, he suggested several times Thursday, the $58 million should be dedicated to shoring up PEIA.

Those weren’t exactly the answers teachers who gathered at the Capitol wanted to hear.

Many have talked about raising the severance tax on natural gas and dedicating that funding stream to the PEIA stabilization fund, an idea advocated most frequently by Senator Richard Ojeda, D-Logan.

Skeptics of that idea note that energy markets themselves tend to be boom and bust, rather than stable. Others say West Virginia must compete against Ohio and Pennsylvania for drilling activity.

Many teachers said they were hoping the Senate would not only pass the 5 percent pay raise package but also move a bill increasing the severance tax.

“Oil and gas,” said Taylor, as her proposed solution on PEIA. “I want it fixed before we go back.”

Her comments were echoed by teacher Jennyerin Steele-Staats of Jackson County.

“We were really hoping to see more discussion about finding dedicated funding sources and revenue to help fix PEIA,” said Steele-Staats.

“One of the main reasons that most of the teachers walked out was not for a pay raise but instead to fix PEIA for not only teachers and service personnel but also retirees and other public employees.”

Steele-Staats said she does have concerns — like Carmichael — about whether the $58 million the governor announced can be counted upon.

“I think teachers have heard a lot of empty promises for a long time, so we are very concerned with where did this money come from and what if that money is not really there,” she said.

“And when we leave, what happens to that funding source? Do they take that pay raise back? Do they take that money for PEIA back? Where are we going to get that money from?”

Teachers expected to pour into the Capitol again on Friday.

Many were coming to believe they’ll be back next week too.

“I think they’re getting frustrated,” Taylor said. “I think the Senate’s getting frustrated that we’re all here driving them crazy.

“But really, I mean the raise is nice, but I would really want PEIA fixed. But when they proposed the raise that got everyone’s hopes up. I just thought it would go through.”

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