CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Before a gallery packed with teachers, West Virginia’s Senate approved a bill Friday to give them annual pay raises of 1 percent over a four-year period, a move that both teachers and many senators said wasn’t enough.
The bill passed on a 33-0 vote after a lengthy discussion. One senator was absent.
The vote came as teachers from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties held a one-day walkout to rally at the Capitol seeking pay raises and better health benefits.
A day earlier, Senate Republicans cited fiscal concerns in rejecting attempts by Democrats for larger pay increases.
During a lengthy discussion before Friday’s vote, Wood County Republican Mike Azinger called the 1 percent raise “reasonable” considering the state’s recent financial challenges.
According to the National Education Association, West Virginia teachers earn an average salary of $45,622, which ranks 48th among the states. The national average is $58,353.
“There is nothing that would thrill me more than to be able to walk out knowing … we got them above the national average,” Kanawha County Republican Tom Takubo said. “But we have to be fiscally responsible.”
Berkeley County Democrat John Unger called the bill an insult.
“It’s like going to a restaurant, ordering a big meal and leaving a penny tip,” Unger said. “It’s a slap in the face, and to me, I’m outraged by this.”
Then he threw a coin into the air: “Here’s my penny tip.”
Greenbrier County Democrat Stephen Baldwin said he voted for the bill “with a very heavy heart, because 1 percent is not enough.”
Baldwin read a letter from a Monroe County teacher who said inflation would eat up the raise, and she brought up the possibility of being forced to move out of state.
“If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose our best and our brightest for good,” Baldwin said.
At the rally, East Chapmanville Elementary reading specialist Gloria Triplett held a sign that read, “My second job bought this sign.” She agreed that the pay increase adopted by the Senate wasn’t enough.
“We want it much higher than 1 percent,” she said.
Teachers also are worried about their insurance premiums, which are scheduled go up on July 1.
Brittany Bauer, an advanced-placement science teacher at Wyoming East High School, said both she and her husband work two jobs. She said she’ll have to come up with an extra $300 per month if the increases go through.
“Three hundred dollars is a lot to come up with,” she said.
At public hearings later this month, the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency finance board will hear Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal to reduce premiums for families that have two state incomes, including teachers. Those premiums would be based on half of their combined state income, resulting in significantly lower premiums compared with the proposed increases.