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Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
Charles Town, West Virginia
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March 7, 2018     Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
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March 7, 2018
 

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ADVOCATE A8 Wednesday, March 7, 2018 you can read this, thank a teacher. It's been nearly three weeks since a statewide walk- out closed hundreds of schools across West Virgin- but this morning educators returned to their class- rooms having prevailed in their demand that state leaders approve a 5 percent increase to their abysmally low wages, ranked among the lowest in the nation. The agreement was announced Tuesday morning, almost a full week after Senate Republicans balked at going along with a deal union officials had worked up the evening of Feb. 27 with Gov. Jim Justice. Instead, day after day, Senate President Mitch Carmichael and others in the Senate continued to stall, stubbornly refusing to pro- vide the promised 5 percent pay increase. Carmichael's cavalier "take it or leave it" att'ltude left teachers, other state workers and many other West Virginians fuming. In holding out for the 5 per- cent increase for all state em- ployees, teachers have done the right thing, even though the deal still doesn't provide for a long-term fix to the state's list- ing Public Employee Insur- ance Agency. The governor is setting up a task force to study the problem. Teachers took a hard line because they had to -- this year's legislative ses- GREG STAUB sion has been marked by out- fight hostility for public ed- ucation and a remarkable in- difference to the needs of the more than 277,000 public schoolchildren in West Vir- TOP: Brooklyn Branson, a kindergartener at Driswood Elementary, wanted to say a prayer outside the Capitol before her mother, Driswood teacher Meghan Hendricka, and colleagues entered the Capitol to urge lawmakers to pass a pay raise package and end the nine-day statewide walkout. Tammy Dodson took this photo. ABOVE: Teachers gather outside Charles Town Library Tuesday just as word breaks that state lawmakers had indeed agreed to pass the 5 percent pay increase for teachers and other state employees. VIEW ginia to be taught by a skilled and competent work force. Lawmakers have demonstrated such obtuseness, some ap- parently honestly believed that simply withdrawing legisla- tion that weakened certification requirements and seniori- ty rules would be enough to mollify educators. In truth, the change of heart left educators asking: Why would such regres- sive legislation ever be considered in the first place? The end of the strike isn't all good news, however. In ap- proving the pay increase sought by teachers, Republicans in the Senate have managed to punch down, demanding sharp cuts to Medicaid spending and other services. It's a "Hunger Games"-style of governance made possible by the fact that Senate leaders know full well there will be no angry throngs at the state Capitol rallying on behalf of the poor and uninsured. Through it all, Republicans in the Senate have demonstrat- ed a remarkable adeptness at refusing to go along with an obvious solution -- an increase to oil and natural gas sever- ance taxes. According to Ted Boettner with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, business and consumer tax cuts passed by state lawmakers since 2006 have cost the state more than $425 million annually and never resulted in the much- ballyhooed promise of business investment in the Mountain State, and were instead followed up once Republicans came to power in 2014 with the passage of a boilerplate right-to- work bill and the repeal of the state's longstanding prevailing wage law, both of which have only undermined workers and communities. While teachers clearly can't wait to get back to work and stayed busy Tuesday expressing their gratitude for the support of their superintendents, school boards, parents and whole communities, it's likely they won't forget the ordeal that Sen- ate Republicans put them - and students and the many fami- lies in West Virginia - through, and put them through com- pletely unnecessarily. Lawmakers may come to regret the disdain they showed these hard-working, passionate educators come election day. Whether they're in a classroom or crowded into the Capitol, teachers do not enjoy being ignored. ~'.?. State Senators in Charleston need to listen to West Virginians I watched with a vested in- out continues, of the reconciliation com- terest the actions occurring in Make no mistake: the mittee and the state Senate the Legislature on March 3. blame for the continued leader to demand that they The circus act performed by school closing lies squarely listen to their constituents the Senate in which they mis- at the feet of the state Sen- and pass the agreed upon 5 takenly voted on the incorrect ate. If you are angry, contact percent pay raise. version of the school person- your state Senator. And if they refuse, then I nel pay raise, then broke their I will continue to provide will continue to stand behind own rules to recall their vote unwavering support to West the teachers until the state was truly entertaining. Virginia teachers and school government abides by its I joke. personnel. I will continue to own word. And I will further The actions taken by the question why teacher pay in do everything in my power Senate are embarrassing to this state ranks 48th while to demand that either West me personally as a West Vir- our state legislative pay Virginia legislators start lis- ginia constituent, and a dis- ranks about 28th (ballotpe- tening to their constituents, graceful display of how lit- dia.org/Comparison of or be replaced by those will- tie these individuals seem state legislative salaries), ing to do so. to understand civics and the I have and will continue to political process. As a result, contact my local representa- JAMI M. HADDEN the school personnel walk- tion as well as the members Harpers Ferry Walkout isn't just about pay, PEIA I have learned that this is about more than Now give it back and take it away until they teacher salaries, are dizzy. Settle on 4 percent just to [upset I have also learned that this is about more them]. than healthcare (PEIA) premiums. In the meantime, introduce the idea of ty- This also appears to be about oil and gas, ing PEIA to the fracking bill. Now the gen- alsoknown as fracking, erai public is getting confused and starting to It appears that the Legislature and gover- think the teachers are being downright greedy nor are playing three-card Monte with teach- for turning down a 4 percent raise. And the ers, service personnel and land owners, teachers are really starting to like the idea of Here's how it's being played as far as I can tying their healthcare to fracking without the tell: landowner's consent if it means they can af- Make this issue appear to be about teacher ford to take their kids to the doctor. salaries. Offer a small but insufficient raise. Genius! Then cut the health benefits through an ob- But how will it end? fuscating list of changes to deductibles, co- My guess is a 4 percent to 5 percent raise pays, etc. Get the teachers so mad that they will go through. PEIA healthcare premiums want to walk out. will be inexorably tied to fracking, making In the meantime, introduce a bill called teachers some of the most powerful lobby- "co-tenancy" which will allow companies ists for the oil and gas companies. to frack on your property even if you don't And a bunch of investors will drill, take want them to do so. Get the landowners filed the money and then run like hell without up.Now put the landowners who want frack- even capping their wells. West Virginia will ing money against those who want clean wa- be left with toxic water, impoverished com- ter. munities and teachers who commute to VIr- OK. Now, let the teachers go on strike and ginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio to let it last a while. At least until the mortgage pay their mortgages on houses they can't af- is due and a few bills start piling up. Stretch ford and can't afford to sell. out the process painfully long. Make it hurt. Welcome to West Virginia, where villains Hell, let it become national news! Get the have been stealing your: treasures, polluting teachers so tired that they start thinking this your water, impoverishing your people and is just about pay. They will take a victory - lining their pockets since 1863. any kind of victory. Now wave a 5 percent payraise in front of them and take it away. TONY RUSSO Shepherdstown 'The awesome strength of solidarity' It's a deep, dry blue we woke up to today in West Virginia Bluer than sky blue, deeper than we usually see The sun's beautiful, bright light shining on us all Promising love offered to us all, one to another May the depth of our love and compassion match the depth of the sky's blue Our gratitude for our teachers teaching all of us the awesome strength of solidarity Courage to stay strong, stay heads lifted high, resisting raw, putrid power Teachers teaching what good people do in the face of fascism Refusing to bow to bullies in the state Senate Determined to continue to demand justice in the face of arrogance ! STEWART ACUFF Martinsburg Education is a bi-partisan issue The current work stoppage in response to the governor. an impasse in the Senate is a great civics les- Education is a bi-partisan issue that holds a son for all of us: that we as individuals have heavy impact for us all. If we do not educate fights and that promises made by our politi- our students on this important real-life civics cians should be honored and not broken, issue, they will grow up without critical think- It is a reminder that small voices can join ing skills, without recognizing the role they together to get recourse to their grievances play now and the contributions they will have from the very people who hold the power, as adults in their chosen professions. As par- That Americans have chosen to violate a law ents, we have the responsibility of educating in the pursuit of an injustice impacting their them. We share that responsibility with the lives, should not be surprising given our or- teachers we choose to help in that education. igins. We are not that far removed from re- Our return on investment is almost incalcula- acting to an unjust law passed by legislators ble. We get back so much more than the effort far removed from our neighborhood (i.e. our we put into the education of our children. well spring response to both the Stamp and Could we continue to be last in pay and Tea Acts of British Parliament). benefits for the service of educating children, We are all affected by the work stoppage some of whom will grow up to be legislators, and many feel strongly on both sides. I, like sitting on education committees? Sure. We many, have students at home that I have to could also continue to see our state ranked make sure stay engaged. My kids are in com- last in everything. The flight of great minds munication with their AP teachers, who have and talented people will continue to grow un- provided recommendations and lectures to til no one will want to live in this state. watch, despite not being in school. These are This is not just about teachers, it's about all excellent educators, state personnel and current insurance levels. Just across the border, Maryland teachers get It's ultimately about a promise made and a paid $652.57 and Virginia teachers get paid promise broken. $63,493 on average, compared to West Virgin- Seventeen states currently use statewide sal- ia's average of $45,000 (starting at $34,000). ary schedules, with West Virginia using an eq- Teachers are expected to break up fights, uity supplement that disallows teacher's pay work with challenged kids alongside of the to differ more than 10 percent. It's time for it gifted, and buy their own supplies. They to end. As long as Jefferson County is not al- spend hours grading papers every night and lowed to pay our teachers more than 10 per- weekends restructuring lectures to adapt to the cent above the lowest paid counties, we will educational needs of the students they serve, continue to lose teachers across the border for They're being asked to train for active shooter better pay and better benefits. events in which they are the front line to lose No matter which side you are on for this their lives in protection of our children. Yes, issue, though, our nation is watching. Our everyone has choices, kids are watching. Voters on these issues are All of the good teachers will make theno longer voting party lines. We're voting for choice to move to other states for better pay common sense and kept promises, whatev- and we will be left with less educated, unqual- er change you want from this, remember that ified people. If all we want of our teachers is primary election is May 8, with a Nov. 6 gen- to be a babysitter at minimum wage, then by eral election. all means, we should support the senators who ELIZABETH VAN ABSHER have chosen to dishonor the promise made by Harpers Ferry