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Measure in state legislature would give $1,800 raise to teachers over two years

Teacher's union unhappy with Tomblin's proposal of one-time payment

February 26, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia school teachers, whose salaries rank 47th in the nation, would see an $1,800 increase in their base pay over two years under a measure that is advancing in the state legislature.

"It's a very modest pay raise. However, in today's economy we'll take what we can get," said Jill Jones the staff representative for the American Federation of Teachers in the Eastern Panhandle.

School service personnel would see a $1,000 increase, and other public employees would see a 2 percent pay increase, capped at $1,200, according to officials familiar with the legislation.

The pay increases are outlined in the House Finance Committee's substitute for House Bill 2879, which is on track for a vote on the House floor next week, according to the legislature's Office of Reference & Information.

The bill originally included acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposal to give teachers and other public employees a one-time payment, which would have cost about $66.4 million, according to a fiscal note attached to the legislation by the State Budget Office.  

Tomblin had requested $800 for teachers, $500 for school workers and 2 percent of pay for state employees, with a minimum boost of $500.

Wendy Bird, president of the Berkeley County Education Association, said last week that union members were "absolutely" unhappy with the governor's one-time bonus proposal, given the state's revenue surplus forecast of about $200 million for the fiscal year and even larger financial promise expected to be generated from gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale field.

A West Virginia University study for the gas industry indicated economic activity linked to the Marcellus drilling created 7,600 jobs and almost $298 million in wages and benefits in the state in 2009, the Associated Press reported last month.

Bird noted that the union wants to reverse the state's slide in the rankings for teacher pay, which was ranked as high as 30th in the nation in the '90s.

"All five states around us are paying significantly more than us," said Bird, who works at Mountain Ridge Intermediate School.

Even worse, teachers in the Eastern Panhandle are hurting more because of the cost-of-living challenges, such as housing costs, that other areas of the state do not face, Bird said.

Bird, who has a second job at Winchester Medical Center, said she has worked seven days a week for 19 years.

"The Eastern Panhandle people are suffering," Bird said. "If we don't get a pay increase, I see a lot of people leaving...."

Jones said Hawaii and West Virginia are the only two states in the nation that do not have locality pay to address the cost-of-living inequity, which appears to have been validated at least in part by a newly instituted annual review of housing costs per county.

For the 2010 tax year, the average cost of a home in West Virginia was highest in Jefferson County ($248,117), followed by Berkeley ($205,332), Hampshire ($198,915) and Morgan ($198,211) counties, according to figures compiled by the State Tax Department.

Meanwhile, the average cost in 24 of the state's 55 counties was less than $75,000, according to the data.

The state average was $110,077.

Until the recession, Jones said the Eastern Panhandle had experienced a "revolving door" of teachers coming then going elsewhere to school districts in Virginia and Maryland for substantially more money.  

There were 2,000 non-certified teachers in the classroom last year, Bird said.

"Our kids have to come first," Bird said.

For the 2009-10 year, 9.7 percent of the 6,362 classes taught in Berkeley County were not taught by highly qualified teachers, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.

Only seven other counties, including 10.4 percent of Morgan County's 913 classes and 11.1 percent of Jefferson's 2,917 classes, were higher, according to the state agency's data.  The state average was 5.8 percent.

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