Schools prep for possible closure

Uncertainty as state legislature considers options

BUCKHANNON — With many moving parts both locally and in Charleston, the Upshur County school system is preparing for a possible shutdown Thursday and Friday. Parents were to be notified by Parent Link on Tuesday of the potential work stoppage, according to superintendent Roy Wager.

The West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and West Virginia School Service Personnel Association announced the statewide work stoppage during a Day of Action Saturday at the West Virginia capitol.

On Tuesday morning, Wager said he was still waiting to see what the legislature might do. The Senate Rules Committee, where the teacher-related bills were parked, was scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

“If the legislature does something, then it may not happen,” Wager said. “We are planning as if it is going to happen.”

Wager said any days missed will have to be made up until the June 29 cutoff date.

“I’m not supportive of a walk-out, but I’m supportive of what they are walking out for,” he said.

While a pay raise has received a lot of attention, proposed changes to PEIA, which would mean higher premiums for employees, is an even bigger issue.

“Plus, a lot of the legislation out there is meant to undermine public education,” Wager said, referencing changes to the seniority system and potentially diverting taxpayer money to charter schools.

Wager said if the work stoppage goes into effect, county schools and the board office will be closed Thursday and Friday.

“The only thing that will be going on will be the extra-curricular activities,” he said. “The SSAC allowed those to continue.”

A final Parent Link call is scheduled to go out today announcing definitive plans.

The superintendent said he has heard from parents who are “more upset about having to make up the days than about the teacher walk out.”

A second public employees rally, organized by Upshur Indivisible-Votes, is scheduled for today in front of the Upshur County Courthouse from 4-6 p.m. More than 100 people stood in the rain at the courthouse Friday to support public employees.

As word spread of the potential work stoppage, teachers and staff began organizing food drives to support the backpack programs in each school. Backpacks filled with food items go home with kids on weekends and holidays. This time, the backpacks needed a quick turnaround to be ready by Wednesday.

The Upshur Parish House and Crosslines also rose to the challenge by announcing a kid-friendly meal with sloppy joes would be served on Thursday at noon.

Director Rev. Alicia Rapking said, “We felt like we needed to respond and to be able to be available for anyone who might be able to get to us. We already have lunch on Fridays, so we will make sure we have extra on Friday too.”

Crosslines normally offers lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon that anyone is welcome to attend.

“We haven’t made a decision, but the likelihood is if this continues we will have lunch every day,” she said.

Crosslines is supported by the community, including local churches.

“If this goes on for a while, we will need other people coming in and helping,” Rapking said. “If the strike continues and people would like to be involved in helping to cook and feed folks, just give us a call.”

The Parish House can be reached at 304-472-0743.

Other local groups have voiced support for West Virginia educators. The board of directors of the Child Development Center of Central WV, Inc. released a statement of support on Monday.

“We believe that, in order for future generations of West Virginians to reach their full potential, they must receive a high quality, early childhood, elementary and secondary education,” reads the statement from the Child Development Center.

“In order to make such an education possible, we believe that our elected leaders must place the highest priority on attracting, hiring, and retaining highly qualified teachers in every classroom. To do so, our leadership must provide adequate funding for education, including, but not limited to fair pay with regular increases and adequate benefits that don’t surpass the pay increase in cost to teachers.

“The Child Development Center of Central WV, Inc. urges individuals and legislators to demonstrate their commitment to make education in West Virginia a top priority.”

In Charleston, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine issued a statement Tuesday on the work stoppage.

“As a lifelong educator, I fully recognize and support the work of our teachers and service personnel,” Paine said. “Our educators are committed to their profession and dedicate their passions every day to providing West Virginia students with the education they deserve. Only as we are able to provide competitive benefits ­ inclusive of adequate pay and affordable health care ­ are we able to recruit and retain the best talent.

“I fully recognize that our teachers and service personnel deserve more and, I personally know the West Virginia Board of Education, our governor and our state legislators agree. Unfortunately, the economic realities of our state may not allow everything teachers deserve to take place immediately.”

Paine met with county superintendents earlier this week.

“I, as well as all county superintendents, are hopeful that ongoing negotiations will result in an agreement prior to a work stoppage,” Paine said. “Be assured that our county superintendents are working tirelessly to minimize disruption to students and communicate frequently with parents regarding plans in the event of a work stoppage.”

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