WV superintendents say they want pay raise bill to pass to reopen schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Superintendents from all over West Virginia urged senators to swiftly pass a pay raise bill for educators in hopes that school might resume next week.

“If the Senate doesn’t move this bill, I’m not sure when we’ll be back in school,” said Joetta Basile, the superintendent in Monroe County. “We’re going to be out of school due to Senate leadership. Fifty-five superintendents agree.”

One of her colleagues, Kim Rodes of Summers County, was among those who agreed.

“If education is the centerpiece of this state, we have to sink some money into it and that’s with our teachers — not for just now but for our future,” Rodes said.

Gov. Jim Justice

The superintendents, who gathered at the Capitol, also heard from Gov. Jim Justice, who told them to stick together on their position.

Justice also recommended the superintendents stay in Charleston overnight if possible in hopes that their combined influence could get senators to move the pay raise bill on Saturday.

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” Basile said.

The Senate Finance Committee, which has the bill, did not meet on Friday. A 3:30 p.m. meeting had been scheduled but was canceled. The pay raise bill had not been on the afternoon agenda.

But the Senate plans to meet for a floor session and for committee meetings on Saturday morning.

The superintendents told both members of the Senate majority and the governor that they could plan to have school on Monday if the pay raise bill could be fast-tracked Saturday.

Justice told them the pressure is on the Senate majority.

Earlier this week, Governor Justice announced that he could add $58 million to state revenue projections and advocated for a 5 percent pay raise for next year for educators and 3 percent for other public employees. The House suspended constitutional rules and overwhelmingly passed the bill in three straight readings.

The Senate has not acted yet.

Mitch Carmichael

Senate President Mitch Carmichael told the superintendents that updated revenue figures by Governor Justice still need to be assessed after they were first announced earlier this week.

“We’re not saying no,” Carmichael said. “But nobody at this point has put a thoughtful analysis to this.”

He also said the state has come out of several tough budget years in a row and officials need to remain careful about spending. He said the easy decision would be to do what the crowds at the Capitol are demanding, but he said leaders need to do the right thing overall.

And he said the message from educators has focused on stabilizing the Public Employees Insurance Agency. The Senate majority has considered devoting the additional revenue announced by Justice — if it comes to be — to the Public Employees Insurance Agency stabilization fund.

Alternatively, senators have considered equalizing the pay increase to an average 3 percent for all state workers.

“What should have been done — what I wish would have happened more than anything in the world is they would have said if the governor wants this and the governor put the revenue in it and the governor thinks the revenue is there, we’re going to go with the governor,” Justice said.

“We’ve got to get them there. That’s all there is to it. Because if we tweak it now — I just got done speaking with the Speaker of the House — they don’t want to tweak anything. They want to run what we’ve got, and I do too.”

Justice added, “What I wish they would have done is said ‘All right governor, you raised the revenue. At the end of the day, if it blows up that’s on you.’ And I’d have said, ‘That’s fine. That’s my job.'”

Forty-five superintendents, who have been in the position of canceling school day after day after day, gathered in a conference room off the Secretary of State’s office, waiting for Carmichael, who was overseeing a marathon floor session.

“We’re just hoping that we can express our concern that we need to get our students and teachers back in school,” said Gary Price, the Marion County superintendent who is also president of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators.

“We feel that the one thing that is most likely to get them to return to school is for the Senate to also support the 5 percent that was supported by the governor, the House and all three employee groups.”

He added, “Right now we feel if the Senate would come on board with that our employees would be most likely to come back to work,” Price said, adding that it was the sole purpose of the superintendents gathering at the Capitol.

As the superintendents waited for Carmichael, they received a visit from Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso and Senator John Unger, both Democrats.

Earlier, during the Senate floor session, the Democrats made a motion for the pay raise bill to be discharged from committee. The motion was voted down.

Teachers and school service personnel again filled the Capitol Rotunda on Friday, which was the seventh day of the statewide walkout. They chanted and carried signs.

Many of them also waited outside the meeting with superintendents and cheered as the county leaders exited.

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