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W.Va. teachers fight for higher pay

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Education Association is pushing for higher salaries for teachers in order to compete with surrounding states that, on average, offer more money.

Leaders with the teachers union launched the competitive-salary campaign Monday, saying West Virginia is unable to recruit and retain qualified teachers because of poor pay.

West Virginia's average pay for teachers -- about $45,000 annually -- is ranked 48th in the country when it comes to average teacher compensation.

Ten years ago, West Virginia was ranked 38th.

"We've tried many reforms, trends and tricks to improve public education, but have devoted little to the employees that fuel the learning in our public schools," WVEA President Dale Lee said during a news conference Monday.

Many new teachers move out of state or remain residents of West Virginia and commute to surrounding states in order to receive more money, Lee said.

In Ohio, teachers are paid about $57,000 on average, while teachers in Virginia are paid about $49,000 and teachers in Pennsylvania receive more than $60,000.

The national average is about $55,000.

Lee said the WVEA does not have a particular dollar amount in mind right now for an ideal salary, but he said every $1,000 increase in salary will cost the state about $26.4 million.

"Knowing that gives us a gauge to go to [the Legislature] and say, 'Let's look at a multiyear package and a long-range goal to get us to a competitive rate,'" he said. "Anything over there at the Capitol that they make a priority ... they find the funds available. This is a matter of priority in the state. Our kids are at a crisis."

Less than one-third of college graduates in the state who received a degree in education last year are now employed in the state's schools.

"It isn't that we have a shortage of teachers graduating in our state -- we have a shortage of graduates willing to stay in our state and work," he said. "We are an exporter of education graduates to other states while positions in our own state remain unfilled."

For example, Raleigh County Schools began the year with 74 teacher vacancies, Lee said.

Leslie Boyd, an elementary teacher in Jefferson County, says she also works as a waitress for supplemental income, in addition to tutoring and a summer job.

"I love this state so much; however, it's very difficult to teach here. ... I don't know how long I'll stay," Boyd said.

Robert Martin is a retired high school teacher who had taught in Greenbrier County. He says that after teaching in West Virginia for more than a decade, he took a job at a school in Virginia that paid $6,000 more.

This isn't the first time teachers in West Virginia have fought for higher pay.

The teachers went on strike in 1990. At the time, their pay ranked 49th in the country.

The strike was successful, and then-Gov. Gaston Caperton approved a multiyear commitment to improving teachers' salaries to a competitive level.

"I see a frustration level of teachers out there that's higher than ever before," Lee said. "Our goal here is to make our Legislature, our community, our parents, aware of what's going on ... and to ensure that we are doing what we can to provide the best-quality education for all our students."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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