Teachers need options if walkout doesn't succeed

March 15, 2007

Teachers in Berkeley, Jefferson and 10 other West Virginia counties engaged in an orchestrated walkout Wednesday to protest state lawmakers' decision to raise their pay by 3.5 percent.

That's not enough, according to many local educators. They say that the increasing cost of living in the Eastern Panhandle is making it difficult to live there on a teacher's salary.

In addition, administrators must deal with the fact that school systems just across the state line are paying thousands more than West Virginia does.

So what's the answer?

The 39.5 percent raise proposed by James G. Keller, Berkeley County Education Association President, is unrealistic, given how tough it was to move the legislature and the governor from a 2.5 percent raise to 3.5 percent.


Jefferson County teachers have a more modest proposal - a three-year pact with 6 percent raises the first two years, followed by a 3 percent increase in the third year.

Whether such a proposal has a chance will depend in large part on the reaction to Wednesday's walkout.

Consider that many members of the legislature have resisted the idea of "locality pay" to compensate teachers and other state employees for the higher cost of living in some areas.

Getting lawmakers who represent areas of the state where unemployment is high and enrollment is dropping to go above 3.5 percent might be a tough sell.

We have long believed that school work stoppages are not the best way to negotiate for higher salaries and better benefits.

If an automaker's employees go on strike, those who need a car can go to another maker. Schoolchildren can't do that, especially now because there is no room in the school calendar to make up the lost day.

In addition, there is bound to be tension between those teachers who support the stoppage and those who don't. Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon has already called on teachers to respect each others' decisions in the matter.

In the short term, we believe the most realistic possibility for increasing area teachers' salaries is to seek the authority to supplement them locally.

Other states have created special funds for that purpose, selling special license plates similar to those Maryland uses to raise money for the Chesapeake Bay. Creating a school foundation is another possibility.

None of this is to say that West Virginia teachers don't deserve much more than they're getting now.

However, we believe that getting more than 3.5 percent from the state anytime soon is unlikely. If we're correct, it would be better to have some other options to fall back on.

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