WEST VIRGINIA — The strike that closed West Virginia’s public schools for four days is over, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday evening.
School will resume Thursday, he said.
Teachers and school-related personnel will get a 5% raise in the first year and all other state employees will get a 3% raise, the governor said.
The numbers still have to be passed by the Legislature.
Justice said he had spoken to the leaders of the Senate and the House and he was “very, very hopeful” a bill would pass soon.
The governor said he had changed his position on giving a raise this size after he had a conversation Monday with a sixth-grader named Gideon.
Justice said Gideon was asking questions about tourism and the governor tried to explain about returns on investments in marketing.
Turning one dollar into eight is a good investment, the governor told Gideon.
“Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that make me smart and then I can in turn, turn around and do smart, good things for our state?” the student replied.
The governor said Gideon was right and he was approaching the strike wrong.
“I was looking at it as what the prudent thing was to do and not as investment.” he said Tuesday.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the organization reserves the right to call teachers and service workers out again at a later date if the legislation gets bogged down or doesn’t move ahead at their desired speed.
Not all strikers pleased
The strike put about 20,000 teachers and 13,000 school service employees on the picket lines to demand better pay and benefits.
With the pay issue seemingly solved but insurance issues not, there was mixed reaction outside the state Capitol when the news was announced to the people on strike.
There were big cheers for the pay raise, but boos for the lack of an immediate change to insurance.
After they were told they would go back to schools Thursday with a possibility they might get called to strike again, teachers chanted “Back to the table!” and “Fix it now!”
There are other issues, teacher says
Wendy Peters, a third-grade teacher who traveled from Daniels, told CNN sister network HLN by phone that the primary issues are pay and insurance. But there are others, such as seniority and less stringent criteria that allow for noncertified teachers — something Peters doesn’t think should happen.
She told “On the Story with Erica Hill” that teachers want to feel “valued and respected.”
Peters, who has 16 years of service and says she makes $42,000, said teachers want a wage competitive with surrounding states. “We take care of the most important thing in our state, our children,” she said.
Legislation sparked strike
The walkout — which kept the state’s roughly 277,000 public school students out of class — came after Justice signed legislation late on the night of February 21, granting teachers a 2% pay increase starting in July, followed by 1% pay increases over the next two years.
But the bill did not address further concerns of teachers, including issues with the teachers’ public employees insurance program, the rising costs of health care and a tax on payroll deduction options, according to Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.
Many people in West Virginia said that the high health insurance costs they face are the main sticking point in the work stoppage. That insurance affects all state employees.
Tonya Spinella, a fourth-grade teacher in Mercer County, said rising insurance premiums are “going to be a real issue for us, for our family.”
She said she has a second job, teaching English to Chinese children online.