West Virginia Senate nixes vote on striking teachers' raises

West Virginia Senate nixes vote on striking teachers' raises
Posted at 8:08 AM, Mar 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-03 08:08:51-05

The West Virginia teachers' strike rolled into its second weekend with the state Senate planning to meet Saturday after declining to take a vote on whether the teachers will get the 5 percent pay raise negotiated by Gov. Jim Justice and union leaders.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly emphasized spending restraint while saying the teachers and West Virginia's other public workers are all underpaid.

Hundreds of teachers and supporters, including students, rallied at the Capitol on Friday, the seventh day they've shuttered classrooms.

Teachers are protesting pay that's among the lowest in the nation, rising health care costs and a previously approved 2 percent raise for next year after four years without any increase.

"We're still not close to resolving this critical issue," said Sen. Roman Prezioso, the Democratic minority leader, requesting the vote Friday. "Let's send the teachers and superintendents that I've seen here from all the different counties, send them home this weekend for a cooling off period. Let's start school Monday and say this Senate does support education in West Virginia."

Republican Majority Leader Ryan Ferns made a motion to table the matter without comment. The Senate's Republicans did that, carrying the 20-13 vote. That left the bill in the Finance Committee, which has begun drafting a budget for the next fiscal year, scheduled a Friday meeting, then postponed it.

Justice told school superintendents gathered at the Capitol that he believes the votes for the raise are there. One administrator noted the impasse is affecting 277,000 students and 35,000 employees.

"If they don't do it tomorrow, we spiral off into no man's land," he said.

Protesting teachers countered that there are other potential funding sources and that education of the children in West Virginia — where more than 700 classrooms lack fully certified full-time teachers — needs to be a higher priority among politicians. Pay starts at about $33,000 a year, lower than in surrounding states.

The Republican-controlled House passed the raises voting 98-1 on Wednesday.

The Senate, by voice vote later Friday, rejected an amendment to natural gas legislation that would have added a 2.5 percent fee on producers' gross proceeds. Receipts would offset rising costs for all workers covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency.