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Panhandle teachers' plight

March 21, 2006

Why give a raise to them and not to our people?

That, in essence, is what some West Virginia lawmakers said about a failed proposal to raise teachers' salaries in the Eastern Panhandle.

A bill that would have provided $3.5 million in extra cash for local teachers' salaries died on the last day of this year's session.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said lawmakers from other areas didn't want to assist Eastern Panhandle teachers unless educators in their own areas got relief as well.

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Although some teachers are talking about legal action, we believe a lawsuit could take years to work its way through the courts. We remember all too well the lawsuit brought by a Lincoln County parent over her child's allegedly inadequate education. That suit, filed in 1975, dragged on for more than 25 years!

So what can be done? Prior to the next session of the legislature, we recommend that local governments look at enacting income and property-tax breaks for teachers and other professionals, such as police, who might otherwise be lured across the state's borders for higher pay in Pennsylvania, Virginia or Maryland.

Then by the next session, teachers, citizens and local government officials need to go to the state capital with a unified lobbying effort.

Those lawmakers who don't believe Eastern Panhandle teachers need relief more than those in more rural counties need to hear about rising rents and property values.

They also need to hear from those teachers who haven't left the state and the consequences of their loyalty.

As Sheri Hoff, principal of Jefferson High School, noted, the teacher shortage leaves some educators who would normally have 140 students with 170 instead.

That's an extra 30 students whose papers must be graded and whose progress the teacher must follow. How long, we wonder, will even the most dedicated teacher put up with the extra students, knowing that across state lines a more normal workload exists - along with higher pay?

For many rural legislators, the problem may not seem real, given their own counties' lack of growth. It's up to the Eastern Panhandle to tell the story, with the governor's help, before more educators conclude there is no hope and join the exodus.

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