Group pledges to continue fight for better teacher pay

January 09, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The percent of classes not being taught by highly qualified teachers in Berkeley and Jefferson county school districts has doubled since the 2004-05 school year, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.

There are 112 long-term substitute teachers that are not certified, and in the past school year alone, 186 Eastern Panhandle instructors retired or resigned.

The statistics presented at the Berkeley County Board of Education meeting Monday night by concerned parents Stacey Chaney and Sandy Collier appeared to be a warmup for a rallying cry soon to be heard by lawmakers covening in Charleston, W.Va., for the 2007 regular session of the State Legislature.

"We would like to see a Panhandle day in Charleston," Chaney said of her efforts to recruit a host of area residents to join Stop The Exodus Please United Parents (STEP UP), a newly formed education advocacy group she and Collier now lead.


STEP UP's next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at Potomack Intermediate School near Spring Mills, where one of Chaney's three children attend school.

Chaney, of Falling Waters, W.Va., envisions "a bunch of mad moms going down on a bus" to Charleston to put an exclamation point on the group's concerns, which already have been aired by locally elected delegates and senators without much progress being made.

"Despite everybody's 110 percent efforts, we don't seem to be getting anywhere fast," said Collier, a Shepherdstown, W.Va., mother of a sophomore at Jefferson High School.

Having met five times since last fall, STEP UP is "rolling" ahead, Collier said. About 25 parents, community leaders and residents have joined the group and Collier is hoping to enlist more support and if nothing is done, Chaney said they might consider filing a lawsuit.

"Everything's on the table..." Chaney said.

Applauding their presentation, Berkeley County school district Superintendent Manny Arvon noted proposed teacher pay increases for the coming year in neighboring Washington County, Md., and Loudoun County, Va., of 6 and 12 percent, could make efforts to retain personnel even more difficult.

"This isn't about the cost of living anymore," Arvon said. "It's simply about the cost to compete."

Arvon estimated starting salaries for Loudoun County teachers would approach $50,000 a year if the pay increase was adopted. Beginning salary for Berkeley County teachers is $28,485, a figure that doesn't include the district's sick leave bonus or housing allowance benefits. Loudoun's starting teachers now are paid $40,986 and Washington County instructors make $39,217 a year.

"They surround us," Arvon said of Virginia counties where a "supplement to compete" has been added to bolster school teachers' salaries in eight counties.

Chaney said STEP UP wants:

· Highly qualified teachers

· Competitive salaries

· Reciprocity for out-of-state licensed teachers

· More money per pupil in growth counties

· Adequate classroom resources and facilities

Though acutely aware of what is happening in the Eastern Panhandle, Collier said after the meeting other areas of the state, such as the Northern Panhandle, are struggling to retain teachers because of economic downturns.

"We have other counties that are struggling in other ways," Collier said.

The formation of STEP UP was announced at a regular school board meeting in September by state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

"We want to cover all bases. We are looking for solutions. We can not tolerate another year of the bleeding, the exodus to continue," Unger had said.

Know more in 30 seconds

The issue: A shortage of qualified teachers in Eastern Panhandle schools has concerned lawmakers, educators and parents for some time.

What's new: Members of the newly formed Stop The Exodus Please United Parents formally presented their mission to the Berkeley County Board of Education Monday along with dire statistics.

What's next: STEP UP coalition will host a meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at Potomack Intermediate School to enlist more support before the regular session of the state Legislature and is looking into organizing a bus trip to Charleston, W.Va., to lobby lawmakers.

The Herald-Mail Articles