School workers express frustration with legislation in both chambers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the House of Delegates broke into four select committees on education Monday afternoon inside the state Capitol, hundreds of school workers rallied outside out at the steps of Capitol.

The school workers voicing opposition and frustration to provisions in both the state Senate omnibus bill that has in now in the House and the new House omnibus bill that made it out of committee.

“They didn’t listen the last time or the time before that when we said no charter schools, fix our insurance and listen to teachers,” Cassady Berry, an art teacher at Fort Gay School in Wayne County told MetroNews.

“If you want to make legislation that affects our students, you would think you would ask somebody who is with students.”

West Virginia American Federation of Teachers President Fred Albert, state School Service Personnel President Joe White, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts each had fiery speeches on Monday.

Roberts even comparing Senate President Mitch Carmichael to a puppet when it comes to being controlled by out of state interest groups.

Katie Ratcliffe, a school social worker in Raleigh County, had a sign that read ‘ALEC doesn’t own the school social worker or her kids’ on the front and ‘Corrupt Much? nah Corrupt Mitch!’ on the back referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council based in the D.C. area and Carmichael.

Ratcliffe said she is just one of six social workers in her county and that she wants workers like her to be in all schools around the state.

“I work with the West Virginia students every day, I work with the students in crisis,” she said. “I deal first hand with the situations that our students are facing. This vindictive vendetta that the Senate has towards us is not going to help our students.”

“What we need is wraparound services, what we need is lower class sizes. We need people to address the problems of West Virginia like our opioid crisis. I am here to stand against this bill and effective measures to help our students.”

Becky Jones, a teacher at Preston County Schools agreed with the sentiment of smaller class sizes and more wraparound services in schools.

“We need to cut back on the size of the classes. We need money put into teachers who are qualified as counselors and to help with kids who have issues if you will,” Jones said.

“We have children in Preston County who are products of opioid addiction and they have issues. We have one counselor that covers three schools. She is there once or twice a week and that’s it. We need somebody to help.”

The current omnibus bills in the legislature that was passed by the Senate features more wraparound services but also includes charter schools.

In a separate bill passed by the Senate, is education savings accounts, which is also a hot topic for the school workers out on Monday.

Ratcliffe, Jones, and Berry all are against charters and ESAs.

“Kids who go to charter schools are the kids who have parents that will get up and drive them to schools,” Berry said.

“ESAs go to parents who can afford to keep their kids at home. It’s going to increasingly cause a deficit between our poorest kids and our most affluent kids.

Berry was also concerned both of those provisions, saying they would strip public education in West Virginia of resources they are already lacking.

She told MetroNews that her school does not even have enough working toilets and there are no textbooks in her classrooms.

Another provision in the Senate omnibus bill that really got under Berry’s skin was the amendment added that would ban teacher strikes, cancel extracurricular activities during work stoppages, and take control away from county superintendents on the decision to close schools in anticipation of a strike or to help a strike.

“For them to say it is illegal for me to strike, no it is my right to strike. It’s my constitutional right to be here. How dare they say that,” Berry said.

The full House will reconvene at 6 Monday evening.

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