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W.Va. teachers up for 'old fight' over higher pay

January 22, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sen. John Yoder called it the "old fight."

Local lawmakers and occasionally Eastern Panhandle teachers make the long trip to the state Legislature in Charleston, W.Va., to lobby for higher teacher pay.

Often, they find little support from other parts of the state.

That was the feeling once again Monday as teachers descended on the state Capitol to push for a $10,000 pay raise.

Several hundred West Virginia Education Association members rallied at the Capitol and local teachers met with individual lawmakers to discuss the need for higher pay.

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But it's hard to find anyone being positive about the state of affairs.

Jim Keller, past president of the Berkeley County Education Association, was driving back home Monday night after spending the day in Charleston with other teachers.

Keller said Eastern Panhandle lawmakers support higher pay for teachers but "it's the rest of the state we've got to convince. That's a tough nut to crack in southern West Virginia," Keller said.

Keller described the chances of getting anything done in the Legislature regarding a substantial pay raise as between "nil and none."

"I'd say he's got a pretty good assessment," said Yoder, R-Jefferson/Berkeley.

Even though all local lawmakers support higher teacher pay, the rest of the state will not recognize that Eastern Panhandle teachers face higher costs of living, Yoder said.

"That's the old fight," Yoder said Monday night.

Local teachers saddled with spiraling costs of living in the Eastern Panhandle are often lured to neighboring states for higher pay that has been as much as $10,000 more in recent years. Local school districts are then left struggling to find teachers to fill open positions.

Two years ago, Berkeley County Schools grappled with 223 teacher vacancies, an all-time high at the time.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, agreed Monday night that a significant pay increase for teachers continues to look bleak.

Duke said if the issue was presented in the "court of common sense," the jury would be out in no time to give relief to teachers.

What is needed is for Gov. Joe Manchin or someone else in a leadership position to "pull the trigger" to get results, Duke said.

Keller growled at the idea of getting any help from Manchin.

"Talking to that governor is like talking to a stone wall," Keller said.

Gov. Joe Manchin has suggested a 3 percent hike, plus an extra $400 for classroom teachers. That would increase salaries by about $1,600, a figure teacher groups say barely keeps pace with inflation.

A $10,000 pay raise would bring starting teachers' salaries to $35,000 and take the state closer to national averages, according to the WVEA. New teachers in the Eastern Panhandle all start at more than $30,000, local officials have said.

The WVEA released figures last year ranking West Virginia 48th in pay for the 2006-07 school year. That's down from 47th the previous year.

About 15 teachers from Berkeley and Jefferson counties traveled to Charleston to push for higher pay, Keller said.

One of the teachers, Debbie Cooper, said it's an issue that teachers must continue to fight for.

Cooper said teachers and others sympathetic to the plight of local teachers must "talk to them, talk to them and talk to them" until state officials realize the seriousness of the situation.

"I think it's good that teachers of all backgrounds, all ages ... go down," said Cooper, a teacher at Page Jackson school in Jefferson County.

Before dispatching the crowd of teachers Monday to appeal to individual lawmakers, WVEA President Charles DeLauder urged them not to accept assertions that the state can't afford to pay teachers more.

"Tell them there isn't enough money because it's not a priority for them," DeLauder said. "Don't let them off the hook. They chose to become legislators."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.




What they're paid



Starting salaries for teachers with a bachelor's degree and no experience in the three Eastern Panhandle counties of West Virginia:

Berkeley: $31,000

Jefferson: $30,172

Morgan: $30,443

Source: Local school districts

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