Bill sparks debate over hiking Panhandle teachers' salaries

January 25, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Lawmakers and a state education official debated Wednesday whether changing the state school-aid formula is the best way to get pay raises for Eastern Panhandle teachers.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said Wednesday that the school-aid formula proposal being pushed by House Majority Leader Joe DeLong is not enough to close the salary gap between Jefferson County Schools and Loudoun County, Va., Schools.

Doyle called DeLong's bill a "red herring" to shift focus away from locality pay for local teachers.

The head of the West Virginia Education Association took issue with Doyle's comments and said he thinks DeLong's proposal is a positive step to raising salaries in the Eastern Panhandle.

Charlie DeLauder agreed that DeLong's bill will not generate enough money to close the teacher salary gap between Jefferson and Loudoun counties, but he said it would give about a $6,100 annual pay raise to each Jefferson County teacher, which he called "a very positive" step.


People who want more money than what DeLong's bill would provide need to consider the financial realities in West Virginia, said DeLauder, adding that it is hard enough to get an across-the-board pay raise for teachers in the state.

"The governor tells us there's no money. Remember, you have to have something that will pass the Legislature," DeLauder said.

DeLauder said he thinks DeLong's proposal will give every Berkeley County teacher an annual pay raise of at least $5,000. That is considerably more than the $2,400 that Del. Walter Duke estimated the bill would generate for Berkeley County teachers.

DeLong's proposal deals with the school-aid formula that is used to calculate how much a county school system gets from the state to run its schools every year.

A county's school-aid formula is based on how many students a county has and other factors, said Duke, R-Berkeley, a co-sponsor of DeLong's bill.

After that amount of state money is determined, the amount of money generated from a local general levy is subtracted from the state funding, Duke said.

DeLong's proposal would reduce the amount of the local share that is subtracted from the state-aid formula from 98 percent to 70 percent, Duke said.

Doyle said DeLong's proposal would generate about $2.5 million for Jefferson County, and the county needs about $35 million to close the salary gap with schools in neighboring Loudoun County.

If Jefferson County is able to keep all of its local general levy money, it would generate $11 million, about a third of what is needed to close the salary gap with Loudoun County, Doyle said.

"The proposal to solve our problem through the local share is a red herring from the West Virginia Education Association as an effort to keep us from getting true locality pay," Doyle said.

The West Virginia Education Association, the professional organization that represents the interests of teachers in the state, is backing DeLong's bill, Duke said.

Local lawmakers like Doyle for some time have been pushing for locality pay, which is higher pay for Eastern Panhandle teachers to help them deal with higher costs of living.

Duke said Wednesday that Doyle is right that the school-aid formula change will not get local teachers enough money, but said DeLong's bill is "the best thing to do."

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