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Bill: Panhandle teachers would get extra money

February 23, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Every time an employee of Berkeley County Schools leaves for another job, he or she must give an exit interview. Less than 1 percent of those who leave indicate they were dissatisfied with their working conditions, their workload or their school, said Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon.

"Salary is the No. 1 reason that they leave," Arvon said.

If state Sen. John Unger has his way, teachers, state employees and state troopers in Berkeley and Jefferson counties soon will find themselves receiving an annual stipend of thousands of dollars.

On Thursday, Unger, D-Berkeley, plans to introduce the stipend bill during the legislative session. The additional money would help to offset the higher costs of living that accompany being a resident of the Eastern Panhandle, versus living in more rural counties in the state, Unger said Tuesday.

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"I think it has a great chance (of passing)," Unger said. "The question is, will we be able to get this through the regular session or will it be added to the governor's special session in September."

Although an exact figure has not been determined, Unger said he hopes the stipend - a variation of locality pay - will be between $2,000 and $5,000 per employee. It is a variation of locality pay.

The stipend would be similar to the additional money paid to teachers who also coach a sport.

"It's not something foreign," Unger said.

Arvon said the bill could help the county recruit and - more importantly - retain teachers.

"I think any effort by the state to recognize the difference on the cost of living would be something I would support and be very excited about the opportunity for our employees to earn extra dollars," Arvon said.

Every year an estimated 75 teachers leave the county, not including those who retire.

In the southern part of the state, where Arvon grew up, a nice house can be purchased for $70,000. Here house prices are approaching, and exceeding, $200,000.

Young college graduates who want to be teachers might not be able to make such a mortgage payment. "They're almost priced out of their own community," Arvon said.

One year the Board of Education compiled statistics related to teachers leaving for jobs elsewhere. On average the teachers who left had 13 years of experience. They were replaced, on average, with teachers with two years of experience, Arvon said.

Last year, the Berkeley County Board of Education approved providing employees with an annual "housing allowance" to help offset the cost of living in the county.

Professional employees, such as teachers and principals, receive $400 for zero to nine years of experience; $450 for 10 to 19 years of experience; and $500 for 20 or more years of experience.

Service personnel, such as secretaries, bus drivers and custodians, receive $300 for zero to nine years of experience; $350 for 10 to 19 years of experience; and $400 for 20 or more years of experience.

Unger said he hopes debate will spur a vote on the bill during the regular session. Should the bill be rejected, or should no vote be taken, it could be re-introduced during the special session, when the governor likely will discuss salaries, Unger said.

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