West Virginia teachers and school employees will be back on the job Thursday after a deadline passed for a controversial education reform bill to be revived. Leaders of teacher and school service personnel unions made the announcement following a Wednesday evening floor session in the House of Delegates.
On Day 2 of a statewide strike, educators lined the House galleries to make for certain the chamber did not take up a motion to reconsider action on the latest version of Senate Bill 451 -- a measure that tied pay raises to components like charter schools and education savings accounts.
The bill was effectively killed Tuesday when a motion to postpone Senate Bill 451 indefinitely was adopted on a 53-45 vote. House rules state that Wednesday’s floor session was a deadline for action on the bill to be reconsidered.
Leaders of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association made the announcement just after Senate Bill 451's fate was sealed.
“We had a huge showing on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our people -- just like last year -- stood united and all 55 counties were out,” West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee said. “Unfortunately, one county decided they wouldn't close school. But we had employees, teachers and service professionals that would not let the buses run in that county.”
Classes were not held in Putnam County, despite officials not calling off school Tuesday or Wednesday.
The union leaders said they polled their members across the state leading up to the Wednesday House floor session to get their input on the matter. However, they said that members articulated “trust” issues, given the up and down momentum of Senate Bill 451 and Senate President Mitch Carmichael’s championing of the bill.
“Senator Carmichael has shown us time and time again that we really can't trust his word and the things that he has pulled has built this great mistrust among our teachers and service personnel throughout the state,” American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia Fred Albert said.
Carmichael said Wednesday he would have to look at a state employee pay raise bill moving through the House before deciding if he would try to incorporate the failed reform measures into the salary increases.
Leaders of the three unions say their members are prepared to head back out on strike should anything else warrant such action.
“The majority of our leaders around this state are saying that they would go back [to school Thursday] with reservation,” West Virginia School Service Personnel executive director Joe White said.
The coalition of unions stated there were five particular issues with Senate Bill 451, some of which weaved in and out of the measure as the two chambers passed it back and forth over the past few weeks.
“The five triggers were charter schools education, savings accounts, paycheck protections, seniority, and work stoppage language. Those are now gone. If they are revived, those five triggers remain intact. Those five triggers could cause us to go somewhere else,” Lee said.
Also Wednesday, the House Finance Committee took up House Bill 2730, which provides for pay increases for teachers and other state employees.
That bill was advanced through the committee and read a first time on the floor. The House will hold a public hearing on the measure Friday at 8 a.m.