West Virginia legislature can't break impasse over raises for striking teachers

The West Virginia legislature argued for hours but could not agree Saturday on how much to raise teachers' pay -- mea...

Posted: Mar 4, 2018 6:25 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2018 6:25 PM

The West Virginia legislature argued for hours but could not agree Saturday on how much to raise teachers' pay -- meaning the teachers strike may well extend into an eighth day Monday.

About 20,000 teachers have been on strike since February 22, keeping 300,000 students out of the classroom. Teachers' unions have vowed their members must receive a 5% pay hike before returning to work.

The impasse capped a day of emotional arguments, often witnessed by a large, vocal crowd of teachers and their supporters.

"We're being penny wise and pound foolish," state Sen. Ron Stollings said on the Senate floor. "We need to invest in education."

Senate President Mitch Carmichael and other Republican legislators maintain the state cannot afford raises that would end the walkout by some of the lowest-paid educators in the country.

The state Senate approved a bill Saturday night to decrease proposed pay raises from 5% to 4% -- a move which infuriated the teachers. The bill went to the state House, which rejected the Senate version. The House had earlier approved a 5% pay raise.

Is the raise doable?

The Senate spent part of the day debating whether the money could be found.

Sen. Roman Prezioso, a supporter of the bigger raise, said a difference of one percent amounted to $13 million that could be secured from other agencies.

But Republican Sen. Gregory Boso, who proposed the 4% raise, was skeptical.

"For numbers to appear out of a meeting and show up on our desks saying all of sudden the numbers are there ... as far as I'm concerned it's about this worthless," he said. He put his trash can on his desk, crumbled paper and dropped it in.

Gov. Jim Justice tweeted late Saturday: "Mistakes and differences aside, we've got to get our kids back to school. While everyone is focused on the mistakes, my focus is solely on getting our children back to school. It's time to quit playing politics and get our kids back in school."

Mixup in the Senate

At one point, it looked like the Senate had accidentally given teachers what they wanted.

The state Senate thought it had approved a bill for 4% raises. But a House version of the bill had somehow been entered into the Senate voting system, said state Sens. Prezioso and Mike Woelfel.

Members of the Senate didn't notice the switch and the Senate ended up voting to give the teachers a 5% raise, Prezioso and Mike Woelfel said.

After the mistake was discovered, the Senate went back into chambers to figure out how to reverse the situation, and at first it was unclear if there were enough votes to do so, and if the parliamentary regulations would allow it.

But the procedural matters worked out for Senate leaders; the real bill with the 4% raise was voted on again, and passed. The second and third readings passed 19-13.

Teachers will not go back to work without a 5% raise, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said earlier in the day. The WVEA is one of three organizations representing the teachers.

Legislative conference

The next step will be a legislative conference made up of members from both chambers. It's not known when the conference would meet, but it could be as early as Sunday.

The conference would mostly likely be made up of a three-member team from each chamber.

Each team would probably comprise two Republicans and one Democrat to reflect the reality of GOP majorities in each chamber. The House and Senate picked their members Saturday night.

The legislators would have three days to complete the conference, but they can vote to extend that time period. Members to the conference would be appointed by each chamber.

The conference could meet Sunday, though the Senate itself voted to reconvene Monday.

High emotions

A Senate finance committee vote earlier in the day drew boos from an overflow crowd of teachers and supporters who watched a livestream from the Senate committee room.

Democratic Sen. Corey Palumbo said reducing the proposed raise will likely prolong a strike that has already caused students to miss seven school days.

"We've got to end this. I think we pass this bill as is and get our kids back in school Monday," he said, drawing applause from teachers and supporters in the gallery.

The House bill proposed a 5% pay hike for teachers in the first year -- more than the 4% total raise (spaced over three years) the Legislature initially passed.

The deal did not include an immediate fix to the state health insurance plan, the Public Employees Insurance Agency, or PEIA, which employees say requires them to pay premiums that are too high. The status of PEIA was a major reason for the strike, according to educators.

The bill also covers a pay raise for state police.

The teachers are eager to return to work but need more than a promise by the Legislature, Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, told CNN.

"What people have got to understand is that this is not something that has happened overnight," he said Friday.

"This is something that has accumulated over the years. And (teachers and service personnel have) been lied to. And the trust factor, right now, is kind of slim. ... What we'd like to see is things go back to normal, and they live up to an agreement and we move forward."

Questions about the money

Legislators, however, remain unsure about the financing.

The hike proposed in the bill hinges on new projected state revenue numbers that the governor announced earlier this week.

Carmichael has said he finds the projections hard to believe and wants to examine them more closely.

"We are absolutely bound by our duty to evaluate that with a fine-tooth comb," he said. "We're very skeptical."

The proposed deal also called for the creation of a task force to address union concerns over the public employees insurance program.

Justice appointed the first members of the task force Friday and announced they will meet for the first time on March 13.

Teachers and service personnel have been on strike since February 22, shutting down public schools across the state for seven school days.

Educators, school staff and their supporters have descended on the state Capitol, holding daily rallies outside legislative chambers where they chant "55 United," a reference to West Virginia's 55 counties. Local pickets have gone up across the state as well.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 142311

Reported Deaths: 2472
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin35484995
Ramsey14726372
Dakota10271139
Anoka9344155
Washington636273
Stearns625550
Scott360436
Olmsted340230
St. Louis325874
Wright273116
Clay252944
Nobles234318
Blue Earth21147
Carver18887
Sherburne183122
Kandiyohi18215
Rice170210
Mower154518
Winona133619
Chisago11562
Crow Wing114322
Benton103311
Lyon10306
Beltrami9618
Otter Tail9508
Waseca94510
Todd8967
Polk8364
Morrison8259
Steele8013
Itasca78817
Douglas7744
Nicollet77118
Freeborn7185
Le Sueur6646
Goodhue65111
Martin62618
Becker6214
McLeod6214
Isanti5995
Watonwan5824
Pine5770
Carlton5092
Chippewa4733
Mille Lacs44918
Hubbard4344
Cass4225
Wabasha4141
Dodge4130
Pipestone36617
Meeker3593
Rock3595
Brown3483
Roseau3300
Redwood29912
Yellow Medicine2986
Murray2973
Cottonwood2950
Fillmore2770
Renville27213
Sibley2663
Wadena2643
Faribault2520
Houston2381
Unassigned23853
Kanabec23710
Swift2252
Jackson2211
Pennington2181
Aitkin1982
Stevens1941
Lincoln1930
Koochiching1755
Pope1680
Big Stone1591
Marshall1511
Lac qui Parle1453
Wilkin1454
Clearwater1381
Norman1340
Lake1330
Mahnomen1292
Grant1054
Red Lake822
Traverse590
Kittson530
Lake of the Woods441
Cook190

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 122218

Reported Deaths: 1691
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk19732289
Woodbury743799
Linn6038133
Johnson602431
Black Hawk5974102
Dubuque550658
Scott487343
Story411118
Dallas357347
Pottawattamie337845
Sioux254417
Buena Vista230212
Marshall212236
Webster196015
Plymouth172831
Wapello158962
Clinton156228
Muscatine153958
Des Moines151611
Cerro Gordo150227
Crawford138714
Warren13137
Carroll120413
Jasper119734
Henry11245
Marion106811
Lee101312
Tama100538
Delaware82713
Dickinson7939
Wright7591
Boone7509
Mahaska73824
Bremer7199
Harrison69716
Washington69311
Jackson6853
Benton6482
Lyon5688
Clay5574
Louisa54415
Winnebago52119
Cedar5087
Winneshiek5079
Hardin5017
Jones5004
Kossuth4970
Clayton4923
Buchanan4875
Hamilton4825
Poweshiek47611
Floyd46211
Emmet45321
Iowa4429
Cass4233
Mills4233
Guthrie42015
Page4200
Cherokee4122
Sac4114
Butler4083
Fayette4064
Shelby4022
Allamakee3999
Franklin39518
Madison3743
Chickasaw3731
Hancock3676
Humboldt3593
Clarke3573
Grundy3406
Palo Alto3292
Calhoun3264
Osceola3020
Mitchell2961
Howard2879
Monroe27212
Union2645
Taylor2602
Jefferson2591
Appanoose2503
Monona2492
Pocahontas2442
Fremont2152
Lucas2136
Ida2122
Adair1971
Greene1930
Montgomery1907
Davis1884
Van Buren1882
Keokuk1731
Decatur1620
Audubon1601
Worth1470
Wayne1373
Ringgold992
Adams841
Unassigned60
Rochester
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 43°
Mason City
Clear
44° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 37°
Albert Lea
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 37°
Austin
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 37°
Charles City
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 37°
Tracking a breezy weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events