Tomorrow is a big day for state teachers. And students.
There will be no classes in at least seven counties, even though it isn’t officially being called a strike.
Teachers in Cabell, Mason, Brooke, Wetzel, Clay, Lincoln and Wayne won’t be on the job due to a “work stoppage.”
A mass statewide rally at the capitol in Charleston is scheduled for Saturday.
The pending action is due to educator concerns about funding for the state Public Employee Insurance Agency, premiums and benefits.
It marks another milestone in the continuing demands to increase teacher pay.
Teachers, school officials and supporters have mounted demonstrations across the state in the last two weeks.
Public protests and walk-ins have made headlines statewide.
Legislators continue to disagree about a PEIA financial fix, as well as how much the state can afford to increase teachers’ salaries.
Gov. Jim Justice first proposed a one percent increase annually for five years, and that’s been met with strong opposition across West Virginia.
Senate Bill 267 was passed earlier this week by the House of Delegates.
It would raise teacher pay by two percent next year, and one percent each of the following three years.
The proposal also increases school service worker wages by two percent next year, and one percent the following year.
Senators last week approved a one percent raise in each of the next five years.
Additionally, Justice has now said public employees health insurance coverage will remain unchanged for the next 17 months.
American Federation of Teachers West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association have split their time between meeting with legislators in Charleston and visiting teachers across the state.
In the trenches, talk of a strike still looms large.
Teachers maintain a statewide strike, supported by as many counties as possible to show unity, is still possible.
If that happens, it would be the first one since 1990 when 22,000 teachers left their classrooms.
At that time, an 11-day walkout shut down schools in 47 of the state’s 55 counties.
It ended March 17th after a settlement was announced by then Gov. Gaston Caperton, legislators and teacher union representatives.
Tomorrow’s planned work stoppage isn’t the first this year, however.
Teachers in Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties held a one-day work stoppage Feb. 2.
At that time many of them traveled to Charleston to discuss their concerns with legislators.
Teachers from other counties also participated since their school districts were closed due to inclement weather.
On Sunday, union leaders representing teachers and school service personnel received authorization to take some type of statewide action.
At that time, more than 150 union members (representing all 55 counties) met in Flatwoods to discuss future actions with state chapter presidents Dale Lee of the WVEA and Christine Campbell of the AFT-WV.
Time is running out, since the regular 60-day legislative session ends March 10.