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House panel inflates proposed teacher pay raises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Teacher pay raises took on the appearance of a high-stakes poker game in the House Education Committee Monday, as delegates upped the ante to $1,500, and then to $6,000 over three years.

As it arrived from the Senate, the bill (SB391) provided for an $837 across-the-board raise for teachers and a 2 percent wage increase for service personnel.

The traditionally teacher-friendly House Education Committee first passed an amendment from Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, to increase the teacher pay raise to $1,500.

Then, they upped the ante further, approving an amendment by Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, to give teachers a $6,000 pay hike over three years, and to increase service personnel pay by $100 a month for three years. That would work out to raises of $3,000 to $3,600, depending on whether the workers have 10-month or 12-month contracts.

However, with a price tag well in excess of $260 million for the first three years, the proposal is likely to be short-lived.

"It's certainly not something we have built into the budget at this point," said House Finance Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, whose committee will take up the bill next.

"It would also affect pensions. It would affect a number of things," Boggs said. His committee will request a fiscal note on the cost of the larger raises, he said.

The Senate proposal of $837 has an annual cost of $38.98 million, and the Senate rejected a proposed $1,000 across-the-board pay hike for teachers because it would have increased that amount by more than $5 million a year.

Bob Brown, who addressed the Education Committee on behalf of the American Federal of Teachers-West Virginia, said afterward he appreciated the committee's show of support for teachers and service personnel, but said he expects the gesture to be temporary.

Neither Espinosa nor Walker had estimates for what his pay proposal would cost.

However, Espinosa said he opposed raiding the state's Rainy Day Fund to cover the raises, adding, "I think there are other areas we can look at to fund this salary increase."

Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, argued it would be fiscally irresponsible to approve such large pay raises during the current state budget crunch.

"In two years, we won't have the money to pay for it without tax increases," she said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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