Senate debates teacher pay raise amendments

Senate minority leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, listens to the discussion on the Senate floor(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

CHARLESTON – Significant debate consumed Thursday's Senate floor session on two amendments offered by Democrats that would increase teachers' salaries beyond the governor's proposed 1 percent before the amendments ultimately failed along party lines.

Earlier this week, Senate Bill 267 was advance to the amendment stage but delayed taking it up until Thursday. The bill increases salaries of teachers and certain state employees. Language in the bill codifies a 5 percent raise for teachers over five years— or 1 percent each year— and a 2 percent raise for state employees over two years— once again, 1 percent each year.

After today's action, the bill advance to a Friday vote.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, among other Democrats, offered two amendments Thursday. The first proposed a 3 percent increase for teachers, State Police and service personnel.

Prezioso said the state is experiencing a teacher crisis.

“Don't believe there is a crisis now? My phone as well as yours has been ringing off the hook. Emails are stacking up. Teachers are concerned. I'm seeing that same anger that I saw in the '90s. Maybe it's desperation. Maybe it's time.”

Prezioso said West Virginia isn't competing with surrounding states, which have higher salaries for teachers. He also said PEIA costs are a concern.

“You look at the 1 percent raise the governor has proposed,” he said. “When you break it down, teachers are taking home about $34 a month. Yet PEIA premiums have gone up about $48 a month. It doesn't wash out. Not to mention, deductibles are going up. Out of pocket costs are going up. All this adds up. When you see what you make and what you have to pay, it just doesn't wash out.”

Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, also supported the amendment.

“I look across this room and I see a lot of lawyers, doctors — that's great. Your salaries show that,” Ojeda said. “You have seven plus years in the classroom in higher ed to make the big bucks you make but a majority of our teachers have a master's plus 45 and we pay them absolutely nothing.”

Many Republicans who spoke against the amendment said they don't disagree that teachers needed a raise but felt the governor's proposed 1 percent raise was a starting point and more realistic at this point in time.

Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, said “I would like to see us pass a bill that guarantees we can get teachers and all other public employees at least to the national average,” Gaunch said. “What I'm seeing from the governor is we're at least getting the process started. This is not the time for posturing."

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said he is concerned that the amendment did not have a funding mechanism. He said he opposed the amendment with a "heavy heart" and said the 1 percent raise was more realistic at this time.

“If we can do more before this session ends, let's do it,” Trump said. “I think if we can do this right now, let's do it. Let's launch this, send it to the House of Delegates. I agree it's not as much as anyone in the chamber wants it to be. Maybe the House of Delegates can figure out how to augment it. Maybe they can come up with a way to supplement it or come up with additional money.”

The amendment failed in a 12-22 vote.

Prezioso's second amendment proposed providing a $6,000 raise for teachers in the first year and increased the salary scale into the 12th year.

“We've got a problem,” he said. “We are not attracting new teachers; $6,000 more a year is incentive.”

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said he agrees that lawmakers need to do more for recruiting and getting salaries higher than they are but said they are doing the best they can. He said the state is just now turning a financial corner.

“People are being hurt. Teachers are being hurt. But their voices are being heard," Ferns said. "Steps are being taken. ...We are making progress. We are doing everything we can.”

The amendment failed 10-23 vote.

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