Teachers’ Strike Continues
Teachers and school employees across the state continued their strike on Monday, picketing in protest over pay, fully funding the Public Employees Insurance Agency, seniority issues, and what’s known as the paycheck protection act. The latter, if passed, would require employees each year to approve union payments being deducted from their checks.
As of Monday, the teachers and school employees in Wetzel and Tyler counties held work stoppages on Thursday, Friday, and Monday.
Meanwhile, the state Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine said officials were considering “legal action” regarding the stoppage.
County superintendents from across West Virginia participated in a conference call with Paine Saturday, Feb. 24, during which administrators contemplated their response to the walkouts. Late Saturday, Paine issued a statement regarding the call.
“Many asked whether the state was planning to pursue legal action in this matter. A decision will be made on Monday if an agenda item will be added to the State Board of Education meeting scheduled for Tuesday to discuss legal action.
If an item is added and the agenda is amended, the public will be notified on Monday,” Paine said.
Paine’s statement follows that of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has characterized the strike as “illegal.”
On Sunday, Feb. 25, Wetzel County Schools Superintendent Ed Toman released a statement regarding the cancellation of school on Monday, Feb. 26.
Toman said the announcement of the continuation of the work stoppage “came as a surprise to many.”
The superintendent said after gathering information from sources, locally and statewide, WCS would remain closed on Feb. 26. He said the status of Feb. 27 is unknown and would be provided “as quickly as it is known.”
Toman said all 261-day employees would report to work on Monday, and he noted that the Wetzel County Board of Education would examine the school calendar and may convert March 28, 29, 30 and April 2 and 3 into instructional days.
“This would remove the Spring Break and provide an earlier ending to the school calendar year.”
Toman said extracurricular activities, practices, and games will continue as scheduled.”
Toman said the West Virginia State Board of Education would be meeting on Tuesday night in Charleston to discuss possible legal action concerning the work stoppage.
“Your continued support is valued and appreciated,” Toman said.
Also on Sunday, Feb. 25, Tyler County Schools released a statement, reporting there would be no school on Monday, Feb. 26. It was stated this day would not have to be made up by the students.
Furthermore, Tyler County Schools reported that the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Sistersville, along with the Indian Creek Baptist Church in Blue, offered to provide childcare on Monday for working parents, as well as breakfast and lunch for those children.
In other matters related to the stoppage, teachers and employees have found support through a variety of local entities.
As previously reported, the Wetzel and Tyler boards of education have passed resolutions supporting higher wages and fully-funded insurance benefits for their respective teacher and service personnel.
At its Feb. 20 regular meeting, the Wetzel County Commission released a letter of support for state employees.
The letter noted that the commission supports “teacher, service, and state employees in their effort to obtain a pay raise and affordable healthcare benefits.”
“We certainly realize this is a difficult issue, but action is needed now to avoid the further loss of good teachers and other essential state employees.”
The letter of support was signed by all three commissioners and will be delivered to state lawmakers.
Visit Wetzel County also released a statement supporting “fixing PEIA for our teachers and all public employees.”
“We are in support of increasing the budget for Tourism in the State of WV in order to increase tax revenue for the State,” noted Sandy Hunt, President/Chief Executive of the Wetzel County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Longwoods Research, an international firm focused on tourism, has shown that for every dollar spent on tourism, $8 in revenue comes back to the state. The current State budget on tourism is $6 million dollars (compared to Ohio, which is over $40 million). The Division of Tourism has asked for an increase of $14 million dollars, which is a one-time increase if you consider the revenue it will generate. $20 million spent on tourism will bring $160 million per year back to the state and local governments,” Hunt continued.
“PEIA budget is currently in the vicinity of $375 million dollars with Governor Justice wanting to increase it by $10 million dollars while only agreeing to a one year freeze on premiums. An increase in tourism will increase general revenue that could be used to help with additional funding for PEIA. Currently, without tourism dollars, each person in the state of WV would pay an additional $700 per year in taxes. It doesn’t have to be a debate between the teachers and tourism; the State should be able to do both,” Hunt said.
“In that spirit, we are supporting our local teachers and sponsoring your current Red Out in Wetzel County. And we support an increase in the tourism budget as well,” Hunt said on behalf of Visit Wetzel County.
The Wetzel County Democratic Executive Committee also took action at its Feb. 20 meeting, announcing full support and endorsement “of the Statewide action by school librarians, custodians, cooks, teachers, bus drivers, all school employees and State Troopers in their rightful, strong and unified effort to negotiate with the State Legislature for pay raises and health insurance security.”