CHARLESTON — A rift over a rumored pay raise found West Virginia’s two teacher groups verbally sparring Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee room.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers, expected the panel to produce a bill seeking a 3 percent across-the-board salary hike.

Admittedly, no such promise had been made by either any lawmakers or the governor’s office, she said.

“But I would go as far as to say I certainly did expect it to come out of committee today until I found out that the governor and the West Virginia Education Association had perhaps cut a deal not to do it,” she said.

Standing a few paces away, Charles DeLauder, president of the West Virginia Education Association, emphatically denied any such “deal” had been struck with Gov. Joe Manchin to hold off on a pay raise for a year.

Hale said the WVEA leader had agreed to not push for a salary increase this year but wait until the 2007 session.

She attributed talk of a pay raise to a rumor that was moving “actually, all over the Capitol.”

But DeLauder was adamant that no arrangement had come between his group and the governor.

“There was no agreement,” he said. “We’ve had no agreement with anything.”

In fact, he said, his group has lobbied consistently in this session for a 6 percent hike at a time West Virginia teachers rank a dismal 47th in the nation and are about to be surpassed by Oklahoma.

“Our members have been actively involved with the process,” he said.

Several school boards have adopted resolutions of support and the group sent out some 12,000 postcards.

DeLauder said talk that the WVEA refused a 3 percent increase made no sense.

“We wouldn’t turn down a pay raise,” he told reporters. “My gosh, we’re not nuts. And if you think we would do something like that, someone is crazier than I am.”

DeLauder said Man-chin’s position early on has been to wait a year, but the WVEA leader said the money is there now to cover the raises.

“We’ve always heard this excuse, that we have no money for salary increases, but a $350 million surplus is more than an adequate amount to do a 6 percent increase,” he said.

Manchin only recommitted himself to an eventual increase, but didn’t say when it would come, he added.

“There is no deal,” Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said.

“It’s not about deals,” she said. “The days of playing politics with taxpayer dollars is over.”

Ramsburg said Manchin has tried to work responsibly to improve teacher pay and pay down state debt, including the $5 billion debt in the Teachers Retirement System.

“The responsible approach to governing is working well for us and too well for us to start veering off track,” Ramsburg said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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