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Panhandle seeks pay hike for teachers

January 04, 2001

Panhandle seeks pay hike for teachers



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Raising pay for Eastern Panhandle teachers is a topic that is getting increased attention.

But whether it has a chance of getting serious consideration in the state Legislature is another issue.

Sen. Herb Snyder said he has talked to the Senate leaders about increasing pay for local teachers, and they did not believe there is support for the idea.

Although 10 lawmakers from the Eastern Panhandle support higher pay for teachers, there are 134 other lawmakers in the state who do not consider it to be a big issue for them, Snyder said.

If lawmakers from other parts of the state support a pay increase for teachers here, those lawmakers will have to answer to teachers in their home counties about why those teachers did not get a raise, said Snyder, D-Jefferson.

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"It's just the legislative process," Snyder said Tuesday.

Other local lawmakers said the issue is too important to give up on.

Local lawmakers want to increase pay for Eastern Panhandle teachers to stem the flow of teachers leaving Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties for teaching jobs in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania that pay up to $15,000 more a year.

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said the district's personnel office practically "works around the clock" filling vacant teaching positions.

This year, Berkeley County hired 120 new teachers, about 30 of whom replaced teachers who left for higher paying jobs, Arvon said.

The previous year, the school system had to hire about 160 new teachers, said Arvon, adding it is a very time-consuming job.

"You can figure that if you hire 100 teachers, you probably interviewed 1,000," Arvon said.

Lawmakers said teachers here need higher pay to offset higher costs of living in the Eastern Panhandle. Prices of homes and rent for apartments is higher here compared to other parts of the state, said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Unger said "locality pay" for teachers must be considered to keep quality instructors on the job in public schools. Locality pay is already offered by the federal government, the military and other states, Unger said.

For example, the Internal Revenue Service understands it must pay someone more to work in one of its offices in New York City than in an IRS office in a rural part of the country, Unger said.

Unger said Snyder may be right in saying there is little support this year for a bill creating a separate pay scale for local teachers. If that is true, Unger said he will ask the state Bureau of Employment Programs to conduct a study to determine whether the cost of living here is higher than other parts of the state.

If the study proves the cost of living is higher here, lawmakers will have a strong argument for carrying through with the proposal in coming years, Unger said.

"We need to keep fighting for it because it's not fair for us not to have it," said Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson.

Doyle said although he believes there is support for locality pay in the House, lack of support from the state's two largest teacher unions hurts the effort.

The West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia Federation of Teachers object to regional pay, saying a long-term commitment to raise all teachers' salaries would satisfy most teachers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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