Down four spots to 47th.

That was the word Monday from the West Virginia Education Association about teacher salaries in the state based on 2004-2005 data.

The drop-off from 43rd a year ago continues the pattern of decline in salaries West Virginia teachers have endured since the state’s highest ranking of 30th in 1993, said WVEA president Charles Delauder at a news conference at Bradley-Prosperity Elementary School.

Teachers have not had an increase in salary since 2001, according to Delauder, who added that although test scores around the state have improved, the steady decline in pay ranking needs to end before students begin to suffer.

“While our schools and students are excelling, the salaries of our teachers continue to decline in the national rankings,” he said. “West Virginia must act now to ensure that our schools continue to be filled with highly qualified individuals to work with our children.”

On average, West Virginia’s teachers make $38,360 per year, $20,328 less than educators from top-ranked Connecticut. In hopes of bridging this gap, the WVEA will propose a “multi-year 15 percent salary increase for all school employees” during next month’s special session of the Legislature.

The plan would increase teachers’ salaries by 6 percent during the 2005-06 school year, 5 percent the following year and 4 percent during 2007-08, the final year of the increase.

According to Delauder, the average increase for teachers in the first-year of the proposal, would be “approximately $2,300, with service personnel receiving an increase of $1,350. First-year teachers would also benefit from the proposal, with the minimum beginning teacher salary jumping to $30,500.”

West Virginia’s teachers struck over salary complaints in 1990 when the state ranked 49th in salary comparisons. Although the situation improved for a few years, the WVEA says, situations similar to those leading up to the strike are “lining up.”

Despite the similarities, WVEA Executive Director David A. Haney says there also are some differences from the climate which led to 1990 strike.

“What’s unusual about now as opposed to what was going on in 1990, (is) we have an opportunity to avoid the real calamity that could happen, when the special session begins on Sept. 7,” he said. “So, the governor and the legislative leaders, it’s right in their lap they have the opportunity to deal with this and to deal with it very quickly so we don’t run into problems.”

Delauder says he is hopeful the proposal will pass, and points to Gov. Joe Manchin’s boasts of the shape of the state’s economy.

“The governor is quick to point out that West Virginia has experienced a great fiscal year this year,” he said. “Financially, we’re in much better shape than we’ve been in a long time. It’s the perfect opportunity, because our education system continues to grow and continues to improve, it’s the perfect opportunity to use those funds and reward those teachers and make education a priority again.

“The salary roller coaster ride must stop. West Virginia employees deserve better.”

— E-mail: mjames@register-herald.com

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