West Virginia schools remain closed as work stoppage continues

PARKERSBURG –Wood County Schools will be closed again today as the work stoppage for teachers and service personnel continues statewide.

The state Senate voted Saturday to cut the proposed 5 percent pay raise teachers had negotiated with Gov. Jim Justice to 4 percent.

Wood County Schools Superintendent John Flint made the decision Sunday afternoon to keep schools closed today due to the continued work stoppage. The closure is under Code C, meaning personnel do not report.

“All eyes are on the legislature to see what comes,” he said Sunday.

Flint said he will be going to the Capitol today to get a “first-hand look” on where everything is at and whether the district will have to continue its closure.

“I will make that decision based on what happens (today),” he said.

Unions representing West Virginia teachers and service personnel say they would continue the strike following the state Senate’s vote Saturday.

A joint conference committee, including with three state Senators and three Delegates, has been formed to address the pay raise bills from the state Senate and House to see if something can be formulated that can pass both chambers. They are expected to meet sometime today, the eighth day of the strike.

The conference committee includes Del. Bill Anderson, R-Wood; Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson; and Del. Brent Boggs, D-Braxton. From the Senate will be Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio; Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; and Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne.

Anderson said Sunday evening the House finance committee spent the day Sunday working through the state budget, going through the different line items to see where cuts could be made to come up with additional money. The governor also sent over an revenue adjustment of $60 million which will factor in their work, he said.

“Right now, the finance committee is crunching the numbers to come up with an accurate picture of where we can find the money,” Anderson said. “I am optimistic that the conference committee will be able to put something together that will be agreeable to everyone.”

He believed the Senate finance committee was also going through the numbers, but he had no way to verify that.

Although many people felt the conference committee should have gotten to work Saturday after it was formed, Anderson said they couldn’t until they get the numbers crunched and knew what they were working with.

Anderson believes the conference committee will meet sometime today and will continue to meet on this matter.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” he said of their ability to reach an agreement.

Local teachers will again travel to Charleston to man picket lines at the Capitol. Those who remain in Parkersburg will be doing something different today.

At 9 a.m., picketing teachers will participate in a “walking picket,” said Greg Merritt, president of the Wood County American Federation of Teachers. The participating teachers will walk from Parkersburg High School to Parkersburg South High School.

“We want to continue to have that presence,” he said. “We want to keep the public informed and keep our people energized.”

As of press time Sunday, Merritt did not yet know the route the walking picket would take.

They are still encouraging teachers and their supporters to go to Charleston. The walking picket allows those who can’t go to Charleston to do something different to bring attention to their fight, he said.

Bruce Boston, president of the Wood County Education Association, said they want as many to go to Charleston as possible to keep up efforts there.

“Those who can’t will have a different way to get the message out to the community,” he said of the walking picket.

Merritt said many teachers were disappointed with the Senate’s decision to only approve a 4 percent raise. Many had hoped the 5 percent would be approved and signed by the governor so the work stoppage could end.

“We are anxious to see what the next step is,” he said of the conference committee’s action.

“We are anxious to get back in our classrooms,” he added.

Boston said many local educators are upset with both Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, for voting only for the 4 percent raise as opposed to the 5 percent raise.

Boley said Sunday the 4 percent raise they passed included all state employees, many of whom have not had a raise in 12 years. This included the social workers with the Department of Health and Human Resources, the personnel with the state department of highways and others.

“These were the people many don’t think about,” she said.

The Senate finance committee met for 3 1/2 hours Saturday to come up with the bill, Boley said. Through their work to get to the 4 percent, they had to take money from the Commerce Department, the Tourism Department and the governor’s contingency fund to come up with around $80 million. There was already $40 million in place with the original pay raise bill approved and signed by Justice where teachers and service personnel got a 2 percent raise next year followed by a 1 percent raise the following year and another 1 percent raise the following year, she said.

If the conference committee cannot come up with a solution and nothing is passed, everything reverts back to that original bill, Boley said.

Many Senators were leery of the governor’s revised revenue estimate, Boley said. They wanted to rely on hard numbers rather than an estimate of funds that may or may not be there. If it was not, things like higher education and other programs could end up getting budget cuts next year.

“We want to make sure the money is there,” she said.