CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Teachers union and education officials in West Virginia are pleased that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, is pushing for teacher pay raises -- but they say a one-time raise is insufficient, and they're wary of other proposals Tomblin made in Wednesday's State of the State address.
The governor proposed a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and school service personnel. It would be the first across-the-board pay raise for teachers in three years.
In a speech ripe with gardening metaphors, Tomblin called the state's teachers "the backbone of everything that makes our gardens grow, more than any ray of sun or drop of rain."
The teacher pay raises, combined with a $504 raise for other state employees, would cost about $42 million next year.
Christine Campbell, West Virginia president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the pay raise "definitely a good sign in a year of a tight budget."
Under Tomblin's proposed budget, the state would tap its Rainy Day Fund to cover a budget gap for the first time ever.
State Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said the raises are responsibly funded and affordable and have been part of the state's long-term budgeting process.
"It's not something that you literally decide on a year-to-year basis," Kiss said. "I would suggest it would be somewhat imprudent to have a six-year budgeting plan in state government that assumes you're not going to do any pay raises."
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said that this year's pay raise should be "a stepping stone to look at a multi-year program to make salaries competitive in West Virginia.
"It's just a first step," Lee said. "We can't give salary increases one year and then not give anything for the next two or three years."
Average teacher salaries in West Virginia are 48th in the country, according to the WVEA.
State Superintendent James Phares said he would like to eventually see a process develop to increase the "payment infrastructure."
"I hope that people understand the true sense of this is to invest in our teachers and our workers with children," Phares said.
Tomblin also emphasized the importance of science, technology, engineering and math education - also known as STEM classes.
"The stem is the main delivery system for any plant," Tomblin said. "We have listened to those employers who tell us that we must increase the number of STEM workers."
Campbell and Lee both welcomed the emphasis on STEM, but said they would have preferred a different acronym: STEAM, which includes an A for arts.
"Those classes actually develop students in a way that nothing else can and it's really important that we don't lose the arts when we're talking about science and technology," Campbell said.