Justice’s teacher-trooper pay raise bill moving forward

CHARLESTON — Shortly before Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference calling on the Legislature to pass a clean pay raise bill for teachers, school service personnel and state troopers Tuesday, the House Finance Committee put an item on its Wednesday agenda to do just that.

Members of the House Finance Committee voted in favor of House Bill 2730 Wednesday afternoon as teachers held a second day of statewide striking because of the state Senate’s changes to Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill.

“From a public school teacher’s perspective and the school service personnel, this goes a long ways for those people in West Virginia,” said Del. Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha. “This would be definitely appreciated. Let’s support this and move forward and put our teachers back to work.”

HB 2730 provides for a 5 percent salary increase for teachers, school service personnel and the West Virginia State Police. It amounts to a $2,120 raise for teachers, $1,150 raise for school service personnel, and $2,370 for state police. Pay raises for other state employees are built into the governor’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

According to the fiscal note, it will cost more than $67 million for the teacher and school service personnel raises. The state police raises will cost more than $1.8 million. House Finance Committee Vice Chairman Vernon Criss, R-Wood, asked for the total cost of all proposed pay raises.

“In the governor’s budget presentation at the very beginning of the session, it was made mention that the total of all pay raises across the state for state employees, teachers, state police…is $105 million,” said Matt Pauley, a budget analyst for the committee.

According to House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, across-the-board pay raises are traditionally how the state does employee pay raises. Those that are below the 5 percent average would receive a higher percentage of their pay, and those above the average would receive slightly less.

“The percentage is more of a way to describe the aggregate pay raise that the folks in the various categories will experience,” Espinosa said.

“So, the folks that make less than $42,400 will be receiving more than 5 percent and those who make over $42,400 will be receiving less than 5 percent,” said Del. Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley.

Last October, Justice — surrounded by lawmakers — promised the pay raises when announcing additional funding for long-term stabilization of the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Two bills were introduced the first few weeks of the 2019 legislative session that started Jan. 9.

Instead, the West Virginia Senate put the 5 percent pay raises for teachers and school service personnel in a massive originating bill aimed at reforming the entire state education system. SB 451 included provisions for charter schools, education savings accounts, efforts to give math teachers more pay and differential pay by counties to recruit teachers for high-need subjects, and the ability for counties to raise regular levy rates with approval by voters.

The original bill also included provisions aimed at teachers and unions, including provisions to discourage work stoppages by docking pay and cancelling extracurricular activities, and requirements for unions to seek annual approval before deducting dues from worker paychecks. A nonseverability clause included in the senate bill would have rendered the entire bill invalid — including the pay raises — if any provision was successfully challenged in court.

The House of Delegates removed several of the provisions that troubled teachers and union leaders, eliminated the ESA program, and limited charters to a two-school pilot project. After the Senate amended the bill Monday to include a limited ESA program and increased the number of charters, the three major teacher and school service personnel unions called for a statewide strike that started Tuesday and ended Wednesday.

The House passed a motion Tuesday postponing indefinitely any action on SB 451, which killed the bill, but it also killed the 5 percent pay raise proposal within the bill. Gov. Justice, during a press conference Tuesday afternoon, called on the Legislature to pass his clean pay raise bill.

It would make the second year that teachers and school service personnel receive pay raises. The Legislature passed a 5 percent pay raise last year for these groups after teachers and school service personnel went on strike for 10 days when legislators only passed a staggered pay raise for 2 percent pay raise the first year, and 1 percent each year after for two years.