Education strike to continue Wednesday

CHARLESTON — Hours after the West Virginia House of Delegates moved to indefinitely postpone action on the education omnibus bill, union leaders announced their strike will continue to a second day.

Representatives of the state’s American Federation of Teachers chapter, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association called for the strike’s continuation Tuesday evening outside of the House chamber. WVSSPA President Joe White said local union members do not believe Republican lawmakers are moving on from the bill.

“As we heard loudly from our members as we had our conference call, the trust is not there,” he said to cheers. “Our friends within the House of Delegates have sent a clear message to the Senate leadership, and so are we.”

The House approved a motion in a 53-45 vote to put off votes on the education legislation, which included a 5-percent pay raise as well as establishing charter schools and education savings accounts among other provisions.

The House passed an altered version of Senate Bill 451 which limited the charter schools pilot program to two institutions from the original six and eliminated education savings accounts. The Senate amended the measure to expand the number of charter schools to a maximum of seven institutions while including the creation of 1,000 education savings accounts.

The House’s motion is considered a death sentence to the legislation, but legislators could revive the bill Wednesday under House rules.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the crowd there was a “minute opportunity” of something happening.

“With that being said, all 55 counties will be closed again tomorrow,” he said.

Schools were closed in 54 counties on Tuesday; Putnam County Schools remained open, but only 25 percent of the system’s professional staff reported and more than 660 of the 9,000 students attended classes.

Putnam County Schools Superintendent John Hudson said in a phone message schools will be open on Wednesday.

“Please understand that buses may not run routes tomorrow, and we respect parents and their decision to do what they believe is in the best interest of their student,” he said. “Keeping school open is in no way meant to disrespect our Putnam County Schools employees, as each employee plays an integral part in the success of our district.”

Schools in the other 54 counties will be closed; some school systems in mountainous counties canceled classes before the announcement because of impending winter weather.

“We want to make it perfectly clear that our trust has been somewhat restored in the House because we have heard from the House today in a positive way. We need to let the members of the House of Delegates know we appreciate their vote today,” said Fred Albert, president of AFT-West Virginia.

“It’s also very clear that we cannot trust the leadership in the Senate,” he added, with some in attendance chanting, “Move, Mitch,” a reference to Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.

Gov. Jim. Justice said during a press conference after the House’s vote he wanted teachers and other education personnel to return to work, adding House members told him they would not reconsider the motion. The House Finance Committee will consider legislation Justice supports to give education staff a pay raise at its Wednesday meeting.

By Alex Thomas