CHARLESTON —The statewide teachers' walkout will continue Tuesday, union leaders announced at a rally at the Capitol Monday.
Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association made the announcement at a 2 p.m. rally.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Lee said. "This is not over. We will be on the picket lines and be back at the Capitol tomorrow. Make sure they hear your voices."
As thousands of teachers, school personnel and supporters poured into the Capitol for the third day of the statewide walkout, Gov. Jim Justice held three town halls elsewhere in the state to meet with school personnel.
Justice held his first town hall Monday morning in Wheeling with two other events scheduled later in the day in Martinsburg and Morgantown.
In the Wheeling event, which was live-streamed through his office's Facebook account, Justice said he will call a special session if a co-tenancy bill does not pass the Senate. House Bill 4628 would allow development of oil and natural gas resources across adjoining properties if at least three-fourths of property owners agree.
Justice said should that happen, the special session would only focus on oil and gas, not education.
“As far as calling a special session, it's not calling a special session just to figure out problems with education,” he said. “I'm not doing that. I would be calling a special session to figure out how we're not going to be a third-world country and how we are going to solve the gas issue. I will tell you as point blank as I can tell you, the repercussions, I will say a blood oath or whatever, if we are able to extract in additional severance, whatever it takes to be able to underpin PEIA for additional severance, I will do.”
Justice suggested via Twitter of adding a 2-2.5 percent severance tax to the co-tenancy bill, which is not currently in the bill pending before the Senate.
Justice also talked about a task force to focus on issues confronting the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), saying he plans to have that task force appointed in the next seven to 10 days.
In Charleston, teachers and school personnel crammed into the Capitol once again. Shortly after addressing the crowd, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he had met with House and Senate leadership this morning and “it appears we are making some progress.”
The West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia is scheduled to host a press conference at 2 p.m. to make an announcement.
Teachers rallying at the Capitol said their top concern is finding a stable revenue stream for PEIA. The PEIA Finance Board recently voted to freeze the plan. A bill currently pending before the Senate would dedicate $29 million from the Rainy Day Fund to the PEIA Stabilization Fund to freeze the plan.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael has said the Senate is not interested in using one-time money to do this and said there may have to be cuts elsewhere. In an impromptu press conference Friday, Justice said these cuts for the 2 percent raise this year and the PEIA freeze will come from Commerce and Tourism.
Other measures have passed the House, including a bill to dedicate 20 percent of any surplus to the PEIA Stability Fund.
David Pack, a teacher for 15 years, and Renee Shiflett, a teacher for 27 years, both of Raleigh County, said they would like to see a stable revenue stream.
“I would like to see money dedicated to PEIA to fund it every year,” Shiflett said. “Every single year, we have to worry about whether it will happen again.”
Andrea Martin, a Raleigh County resident who teaches in Fayette County, also said finding a stable revenue source is her top concern. Martin, who has been a teacher for 19 years, said she has always had a second job — working as a waitress, conducting home visits for the state's Birth to Three program, and currently, she sells jewelry and works at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
“It's to pay my bills — I have one kid in college and one in high school,” she said. “I've been doing this probably since 2006 — working two jobs — when their dad and I split up. I've been working two jobs ever since.”
Martin is a pre-school special needs teacher. She said she would like to see a higher tax on natural gas as a potential funding stream.
“We're not asking for too much,” she said. “We just want to make a living. We want it to be affordable. Everyone says all the teachers are fighting about a raise. It's not about a raise. It's about insurance. My premiums are tripling and my coverage is going down. … I love what I do. I do this for my babies but I also need to support my babies at home. I need insurance where I can afford to take my babies to the doctor.”
Many of the teachers there said they want to go back to school.
“I think there needs to be a dedicated funding source to PEIA so this doesn't happen again,” Pack said. “We would rather be in our classrooms teaching our kids but this is so important that we're down here trying to get it fixed.”
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