UPDATE: Teacher unions authorize work action if necessary

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 2/9/19 @ 4:15 p.m.
Three teacher unions say they are ready and able to enact a work-action if needed as Senate Bill 451, better known at the Omnibus Education Bill, moves through the legislative process.

Leaders with West Virginia Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, and West Virginia School Service Personnel Association counted authorization votes from counties across the state in Flatwoods on Saturday and say individual teachers overwhelmingly support the decision if necessary.

On Friday AFT-WV President Fred Albert told Metro News they are happy with the direction the House Education Committee is traveling with the bill but expect more changes and aren't afraid to use the power of numbers to rally.

"We are watching every day, every hour of the bill," Albert said.

Union leaders said everything is on the table, but a strike is the last resort. "I don't want to leave my classroom, I love my kids," Teacher and Berkeley County Education Association Co-President Jana Woofter said. "I want to see my kids every day. I want to teach."

A similar meeting took place around this time last year and a nine-day work stoppage followed. "We will make sure if we have to go to the point of a work stoppage that we are providing food for the kids, we're providing daycare for the kids." West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said.

Union leader say no plans are made, but they will keep a close eye on legislators.

On Friday the following amendments were made:

• Striking education savings accounts (ESAs) out of the bill.
• Now requiring the majority of the school and community to support a public school transforming to a charter school.
• Striking a reference to Cabell and Kanawha counties for the pilot charter schools.
• Charter schools, when created, have to accept all students in their zone.
• Reinstatement of funds to innovation zones.
• Changing seniority language relating to RIF and transfers.
• Restricting elected officials from profiting or receiving money from charter schools, excluding an elected official who works at the school prior to conversion.
• Removal of all work stoppage language from the bill.

House committee members rejected these amendments:
• Changing the tax credit from $250 to $500
• Raising the incentive for teachers with good attendance from $500 to $2,000.

The bill now travels to the House Finance Committee for approval beginning Monday.

Education leaders in West Virginia had a press conference Friday to discuss potential action related to a controversial bill proposed in the Senate.

A coalition of unions -- West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association -- joined forces to announce their plans in Charleston.

All educators and service personnel in the state will have the option to participate in a vote. The vote will be on whether or not to authorize the union leaders to call a statewide work stoppage, should circumstances surrounding the omnibus bill "merit action."

Employees in all 55 counties can vote. The vote will take place sometime next week. The exact day and time varies by county.

Senate Bill 451 is broad-ranging legislation. The omnibus bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

Much of the back-and-forth in the Legislature boils down to a vision of whether pumping public dollars into semi-private schools will improve education in West Virginia or drain school resources that are stretched thin already.

In a rare move earlier this week, the Senate majority voted to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and instead let the whole membership consider the education bill. It's referred to as the Committee of the Whole. Acting as a committee, the Senate advanced the bill on its first reading Thursday, but the legislation must go through three full readings in the Senate before moving to the House.

Lawmakers are back in Senate chambers for a second reading Friday. It's unclear how long that process will take. As of 1 p.m. Friday, senators had

WVEA President Dale Lee said the groups hope the state House steps up and "does the right thing."

“We have educators here from across the state every day watching closely," said Lee.

Once the votes are collected, the coalition will announce its next move.

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