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February 7, 2018     Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
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February 7, 2018
 

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Spirit ADVOCATE A6 Wednesday, February 7, 2018 VIEW West Virginia teachers swarmed the state Capi- tol Friday to rally for higher pay and better ben- efits, something many lawmakers would like to provide. Additional demonstrations are planned. The concerns of teachers and school service personnel are legitimate. Ideally, West Virginia teachers would be gett'mg a salary of $43,000 by now, as originally hoped in the 2014 legislative session. Unfortunately, starting teacher salaries linger at about $33,000, reports Gazette-Mail education writer Ryan Quinn. Even with incremental pay increases of 1 percent to 1.5 percent per year, West Virginia teacher salaries rank 48th out of 50 states, ac- cording to the West Virginia Education Associa- tion, making the state an outlier in the teacher pay issue. West Virginia is also an outlier for median family income, ranking 49th. The state also ranks last in labor force participation rate and last, for three years running, in Forbes Maga- zine's business climate index. While West Virginia's economy is beginning to look better, resources to increase pay to the desired amount are still limited. Without a robust economy that attracts and creates higher-paying private sector jobs to grow the tax base, a sud- den, significant increase to move West Virginia teachers up in comparison to the other states will be hard. That's why economic development ROBERT SNYDER Hundreds of teachers and state employees gathered in Martinsburg Saturday to protest proposed changes to the state Public Employees Insurance program and teacher pay. must be a top priority, lawmakers alike --the most significant And teachers aren't the only public em- being how the agency calculates premium ployees who deserve better pay. The issue rates for enrollees. for corrections and jail staff is at crisis level, Unlike most private-sector plans, PEIA sets and the State Police aren't much better, its premiums based off of what it believes Then there's the Public Employees In- is an employee's ability to pay. For years, surance Agency. The PEIA Finance Board this was determined by an individual state recently adopted well-intentioned reforms employee's income. But teachers and state that have drawn the ire of teachers and employees with wealthier spouses could get low-cost insurance plans that were essentially subsidized by lower-income state employees. Switching to a total family income system will increase costs for some families, but PEIA Director Ted Cheatham told lawmakers the new system will reduce costs for about 45 percent of those who enroll. Comparing the old rates to the new system, a single mother making $30,000 could save up to $1270 a year in lower premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs under this new plan. A family earning less than $60,000 could see sav- ings of up to $3,400. But the new plans appear to have unintended consequences for families where both spouses work for the state and make more than $60,000. That's why the PEIA Fiance Board plans to hold public hearings to reconsider this plan for those employees. The teacher and state employee pay issue is a balance. Teachers, and others paid by the state, deserve a competitive wage. West Virginia taxpayers deserve fair taxation. The state needs to move carefully and work for long-term goals to bring teacher and public employee pay rates to com- petitive levels, while keeping tax rates and tax structure fair and competitive. -- Charleston Daily Mail Time to invest in West Virginia educators The 2018 West Virginia legislative session looks like it is head- ing towards disaster for West Virginia educators. Following on the poorly conceived budget presented by Gov. Jim Justice, the Legislature appears intent on minimizing the contributions and needs of West Virginia teachers and all public employees. Our elected officials have failed to anticipate and prepare a long-term strategy for the health of the Public Employees Insur- ance Agency and competitive compensation. Instead they have embarked in showy political antics to move a streamlined and ef- fective agency, the Center for Professional Development, into the bureaucracy of the West Virginia Department of Education. With support from narrow special interest groups they have introduced wasteful initiatives such as charter schools and educational saving accounts which will divert funds from our public schools. West Virginia teachers are committed to the future of West Vir- ginia - regardless of where in the state we live and teach. When we stay to teach in West Virginia we are making an investment in everyone's future. Our communities are stronger when teach- ers live where they work. It is time for West Virginia to invest in teachers - a 1 percent pay raise against the backdrop of a broken PEIA system and higher premiums, essentially a pay cut, is poor thanks and recognition from the politicians of West Virginia. A thoughtful, long-range solution should have been discussed and developed long before the first day of the legislative ses- sion. Late night horse-trading reduces transparency and increas- es stress for teachers and public workers. West Virginia legislators currently rank among the five highest- compensated in the country while our teachers rank in the five lowest. At tune of public optimism in the economy, it is unfath- omable that our elected leaders have failed to see the forest for the trees, spending their time on cutting down West Virginia resources to appease a small constituency. From the hills to the hollers, citizens who support public ed- ucation support teachers. It is time for our legislators and Gov. Justice to raise up teachers, raise salaries, and fix PEIA. Super Bowl champion Chris Long says it best " education is the best gateway to a better tomorrow for everyone in America." CAROLYN THOMAS Scrabble - Jefferson County science teacher Carolyn Thomas has won an Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award, was a West Virginia finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Math and Science, and is a National Board Certified Teacher More broken promises to state employees Across the state, West Virginia's walk into and through the buildings lature. News outlets such as the Spirit public employees are standing shoul- and begin the instructional day. Mem- of Jefferson, the Charleston Gazette- der to shoulder to express their frus- bers of the community are welcome to Mail and others are obvious sources, tration with compensation, especially join us. but you may also want to look at the health insurance, and the broken prom- Regarding the key issues current-websites and Facebook pages of APT- ises that have gotten us to this point, ly on the table, we are focused on the WV and WVEA. You can learn of the Thus far, newspaper articles, televi- Public Employees Insurance Agency, specific issues and bills which are sion reports and other media outlets which provides coverage to thousands moving in the Legislature that affect have focused primarily on teachers, but which continues to lack an ade- public employees and retirees, as well but this is onlypart of the story. West quate, dedicated source of funding, as you and others in our community. Virginians need and want a first-rate Many public employees effectivelyOf greatest importance as of this education system from pre-K through work for the benefits; we knew when writing is HB 4341, which would es- postsecondary, and we deserve it. we took these jobs that salaries and tablish a severance tax on natural gas Building and maintaining that sys- wages were low but having a strong being exported from the state. The rev- tem depends not only on teachers and insurance package was an integral part enue from this tax will at long last es- professors but also on the bus drivers, of the bargain. Now that promise has tablish a funding source for PEIA and cafeteria workers, maintenance per- been broken yet again, allow its finance board to re-design the sonnel, administrators and so many Of course, we would all appreci- insurance program for public employ- others who ensure that our children ate an increase in pay- West Virgin- ees and retirees. have nutritious food, a safe environ- ia is 48th in the nation in teacher pay, Other bills and issues are important ment, and the opportunity to grow in and even lower in other fields, such and need attention, but this is happen- knowledge and skills, as correctional officers - but increas- ing right now and directly affects the In addition to teachers and other es which don't cover rising insurance future of our communities. education personnel, our state needs costs are not helpful. So when you see Second, to advocate on behalf of the all of the human infrastructure that school personnel outside buildings community, reach out to our delegates allows us to have safe and beautiful wearing red, please remember it is not and senators and express your con- parks, good highways, excellent law just about salaries, or just teachers, cerns. To contact them, and members enforcement, effective human servic= Will there be a strike? We all hope of relevant House and Senate com- es agencies and so many other qual- it will not come to that, though it can- mittees, go to wvlegislature.gov. Your ity of life assets. Simply put, without not be off the table. All of the repre- voice makes a difference, make no public employees, we would not have sentative organizations - the Ameri- mistake. Our elected representatives a functioning state. For too long, West can Federation of Teachers, the West do listen. Virginia has exported trained workers Virginia Education Association and Public employees in all roles need in many walks of life, and we cannot the West Virginia School Service Per- and deserve your support. We are here afford to continue to lose our public sonnelAssociation-are united in hop- for the children and families of Jef- employees to nearby states. We need ing that the Legislature will respond to ferson County, and we hope you will to keep them here. the needs of public employees before join us on Friday to send a message to This is why, this Friday, at schools other job actions become necessary. In the Legislature that enough is enough. across our community, teachers, ser- the end, we must be willing to stand up Contact a school near you to find out vice personnel, drivers, administrators for ourselves, just as we stand up for the start time, wear red, and make your and others will be engaged in a "walk- the children and families of our com- voice heard. in." For half an hour before the start munity. GRANT PRILLAMAN of school, we will stand together to What can you do? First, become Shepherdstown demonstrate our support for all public more familiar with the facts of this sit- - Grant Prillaman teaches at employees and retirees. We will then uation, and the activities of the Legis- Washington High School Gazette 'a capable, dedicated watchdog' I moved to West Virginia when I was 7 years I got into the habit of writing letters to the edi- old, back in 1954. My father was a chemist, and tor and learned to write persuasively as a lobbyist we moved from the St. Louis area to St. Albans and trainer for elderly advocates. Our statewide or- when Monsanto decided to transfer him to their ganization succeeded in getting legislation passed operations in Nitro. Many in my local neighbor- on a number of issues such as health care, nursing hood were associated with Union Carbide, Mon- homes, utility rates, taxes and public funding for santo, DuPont, FMC and other local chemical op- programs. I also worked closely with the West Vir- erations, ginia Citizen Action Group and kindred organiza- Just about everyone in our local area subscribed tions. to the two local newspapers, namely the morning I can honestly say that, from my vantage point, Charleston Gazette and the afternoon Daily Mail. The Charleston Gazette never wavered from its Even at 7, I was an avid reader and I always found commitment to a better state, more opportunities something interesting in those papers, beyond just for minorities and the poor, and fierce opposition to the "funnies." corruption and fraud. There has never been a more I didn't think much about politics in those early capable or dedicated watchdog. days, but as I was growing up I gradually became I have come to understand that this is large- interested in the issues of the day, which includ- ly the product of the Chilton family, going all the ed civil rights, the Vietnam War, and better con- way back to 1907, when the Chiltons acquired the sumer/good government legislation. I began work- newspaper. ing with elderly West Virginians, first as trainer and I sure hope that the new owners, taking over after program support for a community action agency in this bankruptcy, will let this newspaper continue to Parkersburg, then later as coordinator for the Coun- thrive in journalistic and editorial integrity. cil of Senior West Virginians. The Gazette was es- pecially adept at covering the leading issues and MIKE HARMAN politics happening within state government. Charleston PEIA rate hikes will hurt West Virginia businesses Twenty-six million, four-hundred-thousand dollars per year. That's a rough es- timate, probably low, of what the Public Employees Insurance Agency rate hikes will pull out of West Virginia's economy, every year, with the rate hikes the PEIA board has implemented. That number does not even include education administrators, Department of Highways workers, state troopers and other state employees. It's just a rough cal- culation for teachers. If all state PEIA insured workers are figured in, that amount could easily dou- ble. Rate hikes range from $80 to over $120 every month, 12 months each year per teacher, in all 55 counties (average $100 per person, per month, $1,200, mul- tiplied by 22,000 state teachers). That is between $26,4 million and $50 million in cars that won't be sold, restaurant meals that won't be eaten, movie tickets that won't be sold, small and large businesses that won't be shopped in. Can this state's economy afford to lose between $26.4 to $50 million in sales each year? This could cause layoffs and closings, from Mom and Pop shops to the largest big box stores. If you think this is just a problem for teachers and some other state workers, you are very wrong. If these rate hikes are not reversed it will take money out of everyone's pocket, except natural gas, of course, whose taxes are very low and could pay for the shortfall in PEIA, with just a slight hike in the severance tax. If these state workers and teachers can get this money put back in their pockets, they will definitely put money back in yours. J.T. MONAHAN Bridgeport 1