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Thousands Flood Capitol As Teacher Pay-Raise Compromise Discussed

Teachers and supporters fill the Capitol Building March 5, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va.
Molly Born
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Teachers and supporters fill the Capitol Building March 5, 2018, in Charleston, W.Va.

On the eighth day of a statewide teacher strike, a special committee of lawmakers is set to begin sorting out what kind of pay raise teachers in West Virginia will ultimately receive.

Thousands of teachers and their supporters again turned out to the Capitol demand a 5 percent pay raise, a figure proposed by Gov. Jim Justice that union leaders have said their teachers won’t budge on.

The House of Delegates approved the 5 percent raise last week for teachers, school service personnel and troopers, but the state Senate voted on a 4 percent increase. The lawmaker behind that amendment, Sen. Greg Bosos, R-Nicholas, said his plan could free up money in the state budget that would provide a salary increase to all public employees in the state.

The House appears to be standing firm. “We believe that 5 percent is the figure that will get our students back in the classroom,” said Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, a member of the special conference committee, which includes three members from each chamber.

The conference committee is set for 4 p.m. but could be called earlier, he said.

“It’s unbelievable to me that we’re waiting until 4 p.m.,” Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said. “Have you seen the lines?”

By 11 a.m., more than 3,700 visitors had entered the building, pouring into the hallway between the House and Senate chambers, chanting and holding signs. A union leader said thousands more were still lined up outside.

Teachers in West Virginia, among the lowest paid in the country, began their work stoppage Feb. 22. They are also asking for changes to the public employees health care plan, known as PEIA. County superintendents have said that the task force set up to study the issue is a good first step toward that fix.

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