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Panhandle teachers disgusted with W.Va. lawmakers

March 20, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

EASTERN PANHANDLE

Faced with other problems besides low pay - such as having to instruct increasing numbers of students due to teacher vacancies - Eastern Panhandle teachers are disgusted and angry over the failure of the Legislature to pass pay raises in the recently completed legislative session, local teachers union leaders say.

"Teachers are just getting shafted," said Brian Crim, co-president of the Berkeley County Education Association, the organization which represents Berkeley County teachers.

"The answer's always the same. Nobody wants to do anything," Crim said.

Local lawmakers and local school officials have expressed frustration over the inability to get pay raises for teachers passed in the recently completed 60-day legislative session and said they are considering legal action to force some action on raises.

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Officials say the need for increased salaries for teachers is especially acute in the Eastern Panhandle, where teachers are leaving their jobs for higher-paying ones in neighboring states.

"You got people leaving by droves," Crim said Sunday.

That creates an extra hardship on teachers who remain, said Sheri Hoff, principal of Jefferson High School.

A teacher might have to teach about 140 students, but there are two teachers at Jefferson High who are teaching close to 170 because of vacancies in the school system, Hoff said.

"There's no one to take the load. They are very disheartened that Gov. Manchin and the Legislature are not hearing their concerns. We're not getting any support," Hoff said.

Marty Soltis, co-president of the Berkeley County Education Association, said teachers are disappointed over the situation, especially since the state has a $350 million surplus.

Although Sen. John Unger criticized the West Virginia Education Association for not doing more to push pay raises through, Soltis said the statewide teachers organization was involved in the fight for raises.

The WVEA set aside certain days for counties to push for teacher pay raises and about a dozen Berkeley County teachers went to Charleston, W.Va., on two days to push for raises, Soltis said.

The WVEA also developed pay-raise petitions for teachers to circulate and about 750 petitions were given to lawmakers, Soltis said.

"I think the WVEA tried," said Soltis, a career exploration teacher at James Rumsey Technical Institute.

Unger has said he thinks legal action should be taken to address the issue. When asked what type of legal action should be taken, Unger said "that will depend on the lawyers."

Soltis said legal action is about the only remedy left.

Crim, who teaches general music at Berkeley Heights Elementary School, said he has reservations about legal action, partly because he fears such a strategy could drag on for years.

Crim and Soltis said the WVEA has called a meeting of all county education association chapters Saturday in Charleston.

The meeting is to map out a strategy for pay raises, Soltis said.

Hoff said she has heard talk in the school system about legal action to force pay raises, but she is not sure what the action would entail.

A bill that would have given the Eastern Panhandle an extra $3.5 million a year for teacher salaries died in the House of Delegates during the last day of the Legislature.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said last week that some lawmakers from other parts of the state believe that no relief should be given to one particular section of the state unless it could be provided statewide.

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