By JANET METZNER
The Weirton Daily Times
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed 2-percent raise for classroom teachers may help keep West Virginia’s current teachers in the state, but some educators say it may not be enough to make the state competitive in recruiting.
“It’s a place to start,” said Kim Miller, superintendent of Ohio County Schools, noting she’s grateful Justice recognizes the value of teachers’ hard work. “We would like to give them everything.”
But for the state to compete with bordering states in recruiting the best teachers, it’s likely not enough, she said.
“If we want to be able to be competitive, we have to be able to pay enough to be competitive with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland and Virginia where they provide better pay,” she said.
Justice said last week that his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 includes the raise for all classroom teachers — but not administrators.
“I am ashamed that we can’t do more,” he said during his State of the State speech on Wednesday.
The raises will likely cost $21 million statewide, said Dave Hardy, West Virginia’s secretary of revenue.
“We have got to return education back as much as we possibly can to a local level,” Justice said as an introduction to announcing the pay raise pledge.
He said he plans to submit a bill to the Legislature that will “eliminate any of the unnecessary bureaucracies that we have.”
Republican leaders, including Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, have criticized Justice’s proposed budget, saying it’s a “spending spree” featuring expenses such as the teachers’ raises and a new $105 million “Save Our State Fund” that the state can’t afford.
That fund sets aside money for economic development and infrastructure investment, according to budget briefing materials presented to journalists by Hardy.
Justice’s $4.5 billion, proposed budget is $390 million higher than last year’s. However, Justice intends to use that plan to close a $500 million deficit with $450 million in tax and fees increases combined with only $26.6 million in cuts, Carmichael and Armstead said. They plan to work to find cuts in state agencies that will replace Justice’s tax and fee increases in the final budget.
Hardy said Justice’s budget removes a pay raise for other state employees in order to provide the raise to classroom teachers.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, the largest union in the state with 10,000 members, said the proposed raise, as well as maintaining educators’ benefits such as PEIA health insurance, are especially important in the Northern Panhandle, where teachers can easily drive to Pennsylvania and Ohio to get higher-paying jobs.
Nonetheless, “This is a great start,” he said of the proposed 2-percent raise.
The National Education Association tracks average salaries through its research. According to the group, in 2015 West Virginia ranked among states having the lowest average annual salaries for instructional teaching staff.
West Virginia’s $45,086 earned it 46th place in the rankings, while its five, bordering states far exceeded that average.
Two bordering states ranked among the highest pay: Maryland, ranked ninth with an average salary of $64,546; and Pennsylvania 10th with an average of $63,701. Ohio is 19th, at $55,913; Kentucky 26th, at $50,560; and Virginia 29th, at $50,560.
Robin Daquilante, superintendent of Tyler County Schools, said the raise is “nowhere near what our educators deserve, but with the financial position of this state, even talking about any kind of pay raise is a step in the right direction. It’s a gesture of goodwill,” she said.
However, while the increase will help retain current teachers, she said she doesn’t know if it will bring in any new ones.
Regarding the proposed 2-percent raise, “The governor feels strongly he wants to reward classroom teachers,” Hardy said.
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