Teachers ask for pay support in Hancock

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County’s teachers want the school board’s support as teachers across the state of West Virginia prepare to ask for a pay increase in the 2014 legislative session.

Gifted education instructor Melanie Donofe, president of the Hancock County Education Association, told the board on Monday \the West Virginia Education Association is preparing to lobby the state Legislature for a raise.

Teachers in West Virginia do not have collective bargaining rights, and their pay scale is set by the state Legislature. The last salary increase for teachers was set about five years ago.

“This is not a Hancock County issue. This is a state of West Virginia issue,” Donofe said. “We would like you to be on board with us.”

Donofe said West Virginia ranks 48th in the United States for teacher salaries and that the state has dropped 10 spots since 2003. The average teacher salary in West Virginia is $45,453, compared to $57,140 in Ohio and $62,569 in Pennsylvania, she said, citing statistics from the WVEA’s “We Deserve Competitive Pay” campaign.

Hancock County ranks 13th in the state for average teacher salary, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. The average salary for Hancock County teachers for the current school year is $47,687, according to the WVDE.

Hancock County Schools had 383 professional personnel on its payroll in the 2012-13 school year, according to the WVDE. The board laid off 15 teachers last year because an unexpected drop in enrollment precipitated a drop in state aid.

Donofe said the lack of a recent pay raise is costing the state in the number of teachers who are taking jobs elsewhere.

“We don’t have a shortage of education graduates. We have a shortage of education graduates who are willing to stay in West Virginia,” she said.

Of the 1,541 education graduates in the state last year, only 438 took jobs with West Virginia schools, Donofe said.

The school board did not act on Donofe’s request Monday night, but board President Jerry Durante sounded a conciliatory note.

“We recognize it’s a serious problem in the Northern Panhandle because of our close proximity to (Ohio and Pennsylvania),” he said.

Durante noted Hancock County tries to stay competitive by bolstering teacher salaries with supplements that are funded by the school district’s excess levy, which voters renewed earlier this month.

Donofe and other WVEA representatives recently met with the Northern Panhandle’s legislative delegation to discuss the 2014 legislative session agenda.

Del. Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, who was at the meeting, said legislators are sympathetic to the teachers but “at the end of the day, it comes down to the dollars that are there and trying to identify places where we can find the money.”

Swartzmiller said the Legislature already has shown its commitment to public education by stabilizing teacher pensions and other post-employment benefits.

“It’s not that we don’t put money into education. We put literally millions of dollars into education,” he said.

Swartzmiller said boosting teachers’ salaries also would require legislators to look at the wages of school service personnel and other state employees.

Also Monday, the school board:

– Learned that school, including pre-kindergarten, was to let out two hours early today because of a winter weather advisory.

– Learned employment vacancies for Weirton Elementary School for the 2014-15 school year are being posted. Vacancies include the principal, assistant principal, 70 teachers and 40 service personnel. The school is being built to replace Weirton Heights, Liberty and Broadview elementary schools.

– Learned the school district will be reimbursed by the state for the installation of a flashing light on Pennsylvania Avenue for the new Weirton Elementary School. A study by the West Virginia Division of Highways determined that a traffic signal there was not warranted, Superintendent Suzan Smith said.

– Accepted the retirement of Timothy Reinard, coordinator of transportation.