UPDATE: Teachers hold town hall with state leaders over wages
A day after teachers held a series of protests, rallies, and walk-ins at their schools and the Capitol over concerns about PEIA rates and wage increases, they met with state lawmakers to discuss what happens next.
“Something needs to be done,” said Lucinda Burns, a teacher at Point Harmony Elementary. “It needs to be done now.”
Burns says the biggest concern and reason for their outrage is the rising PEIA premiums and the fact that only a one percent raise has been proposed in the West Virginia Senate. Burns calls the proposed raise a slap in the face that will be of no use once the higher premiums go in to effect.
“I think all teachers feel unappreciated, degraded,” said Burns. “We aren't respected and if our government doesn't respect us, it is very difficult for the families that we serve to respect us.”
During the town hall at Trinity Lutheran Church in Charleston, lawmakers from Kanawha County spoke to the crowd about what is going on from within the Capitol to find a solution to fund PEIA so premiums don’t go up, and get teachers and other public workers a larger raise.
“We are tired of being underpaid,” said Burns. “We are tired of having to fight year after year for little things. We need our students to be strong. We need our students to have teachers who aren't worried about a second job. We need our teachers to be free to be able to go to the grocery store and buy what's needed. Not only for ourselves but for our students.”
Right now, the National Education Association says West Virginia teachers make an average salary of $45,622, which ranks 48th in the nation. The one percent raise would only add about $400 a year to their income.
“They're concerned,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin (D) from Kanawha County’s 37th District. “They're concerned not just about their livelihood but about our public education system as a whole.”
Pushkin and other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke Saturday. They spoke of the importance of getting PEIA fully funded so user premiums do not go up and benefits do not go down. Pushkin says he too feels the one percent raise that passed in the Senate Friday afternoon is insulting to teachers.
“Teachers have one of the most important professions in our society. Public education affects every other aspect of our society. It affects our future it also affects our business climate.”
Teachers say just because the one percent vote passed the Senate, it does not mean the fight is over.
“This is not where it ends,” said Burns. “This is a beginning.”
The pay raise bill now goes to the House of Delegates for negotiations.
It was a frigid morning, with temperatures in the teens and a cold wind. But that was not going to stop educators in Kanawha County.
At least seven schools across the county saw teachers and administrators stage a walk-in instead of a full-blown strike -- the idea to grab people’s attention.
That's what happened Friday morning outside Point Harmony Elementary with upward of 50 teachers, school employees, family and friends lining the sidewalk. They were on a mission.
“We should value public education and provide the best education for our students,” explained Dinah Adkins.
Adkins, president of the Kanawha County Education Association, says they are not being heard by lawmakers. She adds public education is under attack.
"If we don't stand up for the schools who is going to do it? Because we don't seem to have legislators, a majority that will do it. If the minority can't do it and the majority won't and the governor is not doing it, then we have to stand up for public education,” Adkins said.
It seemed plenty of people passing by took notice, honking at signs reading ‘If you can read this thank a teacher,’ ‘Teaching creates all other professions’ and ‘1% is not enough.’ Even little kids got in on the action Friday morning.
“Our young people are going out of state we're losing educators and other people in the work force,” Adkins said.
These teachers said, too, it’s not just their jobs they’re fighting for. It’s also their ability to provide for their families.
We’re told this walk-in was voted on by the union members instead of a full-blown strike so students would not miss a whole day of class.
Hundreds of teachers across West Virginia participated in a "walk-in" Friday morning to stand together in solidarity for public education.
Dozens of teachers held signs along Big Tyler Rd. in front of Point Harmony Elementary in Cross Lanes. Teachers were also out at several other schools, including Belle Elementary, DuPont Middle, Riverside High School, Stonewall Middle Ruthlawn Elementary and Sissonville Middle in Kanawha County.
Organizers says the purpose of the event is to build solidarity between parents, education employees, community leaders and students to ensure every child has a high-quality public education. They also want to call awareness of the issues that teachers and service personnel are facing in West Virginia.
A Senate vote is scheduled Friday on a bill to give teachers pay raises of about $400 annually over four years. A press conference scheduled for today by Gov. Jim Justice to address Public Education Issues in West Virginia has been canceled.
According to the National Education Association, West Virginia teachers earn an average salary of $45,622, which ranks 48th in the nation.
At South Charleston High School, about 30 students started their day in the parking lot in front of their school holding signs in support of their teachers. One sign read "FIX PEIA."
In Cabell County, teachers at Milton Middle gathered at Wallace Funeral Home, which is right across the hill from the middle school. They got there early Friday morning, holding signs and standing along the road trying to get people to honk in support of teachers.
They were all wearing purple and then walked into the school around 7:20 a.m. There were teachers, students and parents at this event.
When school began, the teachers who participated in the walk-in across the state walked inside together and started the school day as normal.
Logan County Schools are closed due to "an illegal unauthorized employee walkout."
Mingo County followed suit Thursday evening, as did Wyoming County.
Teachers from Logan County are expected to be at the State Capitol Complex Friday to protest pay and health care.