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'Locality pay' is a tough sell for W.Va. lawmakers

July 30, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - To help offset the low salaries paid to Eastern Panhandle teachers, lawmakers have tried in recent years to get so-called "locality pay" for the instructors.

Locality pay would be a higher amount of pay for local teachers to help them offset a higher cost of living in the Eastern Panhandle.

But lawmakers have found it tough to convince their colleagues from other parts of the state to pass the measure.

Eastern Panhandle lawmakers support locality pay, but state teacher unions like the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers oppose the idea, said Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson.

"And the other legislators listen to them," said Yoder, who represents the 16th Senate District.

Yoder said he thinks teacher unions oppose locality pay on the notion that if there is money for pay raises, it should be spread among all teachers.

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Local lawmakers have tried other ways to get Eastern Panhandle teachers money, such as housing allowances, Yoder said.

Another way to generate more money for local school districts is convincing state officials to allow local school districts to retain more of their tax revenue that is sent to Charleston, W.Va., Yoder said.

That has been done to some extent, Yoder said.

Del. Walter Duke agreed with Yoder that getting support for locality pay in the state is difficult and acknowledges that change for better teacher pay comes in "dribs and drabs."

But reforms have been made, said Duke, R-Berkeley.

The success in allowing local school districts to keep more of their tax revenue that is sent to Charleston allowed Berkeley County Schools to give its teachers a pay raise of about $1,600, Duke said.

That pay increase was added to a state pay raise of about $1,300, Duke said.

And the tax shifting mechanisms should allow Berkeley County Schools to do more in the area of pay raises, Duke said.

"We just need to expedite that process," said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Local school officials remain committed to getting relief like locality pay for teachers despite discouraging efforts in Charleston to get the idea any attention, said Scott Sudduth, a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

And it's a problem that could affect the entire state if progress is not made soon because teacher shortage problems are affecting districts across the country, Sudduth said.

"We're putting ourselves farther and farther in a hole," Sudduth said.

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