CHARLESTON — School teachers and public employees in West Virginia are planning a statewide walkout as they continue to protest low pay and projected hikes in health insurance costs.
The decision to hold a walkout this Thursday and Friday was announced by the American Federal of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association at a rally at the state Capitol on Saturday.
Teachers and public employees have been demonstrating for weeks, including a large protest at the Capitol on Friday. They are asking lawmakers to fully fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency and increase pay.
Upshur County Schools superintendent Roy Wager said he will know more about the impending shutdown today.
“I have to go to Charleston [Monday],” he said in an interview Sunday afternoon. “I’ve been called by the state superintendent.”
Wager said that as more information becomes available, parents will be notified of any school closures.
School sporting events should be unaffected by the walkout, Wager predicted. The top-ranked Buckhannon-Upshur High School girls basketball team begins postseason play on Tuesday, with the sectional championship slated for Thursday.
“Teams that are still practicing or have games will continue for now,” Wager said. “We plan on continuing with those. I am not going to hurt the kids. We will shut down, but the games will go on. It’s that time of year, sectionals, regionals and states. We are not going to hurt them.”
Wager said any missed days will be added on to the end of the year.
The statewide walkout announcement came a day after local school employees rallied at the Upshur County Courthouse to raise awareness of their plight. West Virginia teacher salaries rank 48th nationally, they say, and impending PEIA changes coupled with the small raises approved in the House and Senate mean many teachers will see actually see their paychecks decrease
The legislature has been working on a solution, but teachers say the current proposals just kick the can down the road.
The West Virginia House has voted to apply $29 million from the state’s rainy day fund to freeze insurance rates for teachers and state workers for the next fiscal year.
With teachers crowding its galleries Friday afternoon, the Senate voted 21-12 against bringing the legislation back out of committee and shortly after that adjourned until evening.
In order to secure long-term funding, PEIA Director Ted Cheatham has said that because of medical inflation, about $50 million to $70 million would be needed annually to keep the program functioning as it currently does.
On the issue of teacher pay, the House of Delegates has voted to give teachers 2 percent raises next year followed by 1 percent raises. The Senate earlier approved 1 percent raises annually for five years.
Legislators previously shot down attempts to up the