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Lawmakers say pay hikes missing from speech

January 11, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Local lawmakers on Wednesday night praised Gov. Joe Manchin for his proposals to expand high-speed broadband service across the state, boost funding for school security and give tax credits for first-time vehicle registrations.

But they said they were disappointed that Manchin did not address regional issues, such as laying out specific plans to get Eastern Panhandle state employees - specifically teachers - more money to help prevent them from going across state lines for better pay.

In his State of the State address, Manchin proposed a 2.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for teachers, and said the state is taking steps to make sure that no full-time teacher in West Virginia makes less than $30,000 a year, including starting teachers.

That's only a little more than the approximately $29,000 that Berkeley County Schools offers starting teachers.

Last year, Berkeley County Schools officials grappled with 223 teacher vacancies to fill - the highest yet - and 95 percent of teachers who resigned from Berkeley County Schools cited pay as their reason for leaving, school officials said.

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A demonstration Wednesday in Charleston, W.Va., called for a 6 percent pay hike for teachers, said Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley.

"There were some good things and not so good things," Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said of Manchin's speech.

Doyle said it is important that lawmakers push for an additional pay supplement for Eastern Panhandle state employees such as teachers, college instructors, correctional officers and natural resource officers.

Doyle referred to the supplement as a "cost of competition" and said he would like to see one averaging about $5,000.

Duke said perhaps the Legislature can bump Manchin's proposed 2.5 percent teacher pay increase higher.

Sen. John Unger said Manchin's lack of mention of low pay for local teachers was "disappointing.

"Manny Arvon is down here now and we're working it in the Legislature," said Unger, referring to the need for higher teacher pay.

Arvon is superintendent of schools in Berkeley County.

Duke said Manchin was not specific on issues facing different regions of the state, such as relief from high property taxes in the Eastern Panhandle.

"He was pretty general," Duke said.

On the brighter side, Unger and Doyle said they were happy to see Manchin's plans to get every state resident access to high-speed broadband by 2010.

Unger said when he was on the campaign trail last year, Eastern Panhandle residents repeatedly emphasized the importance of expanding broadband service in the state.

Unger said one of the reasons more companies are not moving into the Eastern Panhandle is because of a lack of broadband service.

Doyle said West Virginia is way behind the rest of the country in expanding broadband.

"I'm glad he understands that," Doyle said.

Local officials for many years have complained about people moving into the Eastern Panhandle but not registering their cars here, which shortchanges local government on property tax revenue from cars.

Lawmakers said they like Manchin's proposal for a credit on the tax in return for registering cars, although Manchin did not give details on how the credit would work.

Manchin made a reference to the Eastern Panhandle as he was talking about the need for a highly educated work force.

Manchin said teachers are critical to the efforts, and he called attention to Sarah Morris, an English teacher at Berkeley Springs High School and the 2007 West Virginia Teacher of the Year, who was in the audience.

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