Classes Canceled After Teachers Walk Out

Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 11:05 am
By: News On 6

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Teachers demanding better pay refused to show up for work Wednesday and forced the cancellation of classes in at least 14 counties.

Some teachers were convinced to join the walkout last-minute when they discovered peers from neighboring counties outside their schools protesting.

``Our teachers wouldn't cross the picket line,'' said Lotus Bailes, the Raleigh County superintendent's secretary.

Lawmakers last week approved a 3.5 percent pay raise for the state's nearly 20,000 teachers, but the educators' union said it was not enough to keep West Virginia competitive with the rest of the country.

West Virginia teachers' salaries now rank 47th in the nation, according to the West Virginia Education Association. State officials said the average teacher earned $41,388 last year and has about 18 years of experience.

``We have so much trouble retaining and recruiting highly qualified teachers as it is,'' local union president Gayle Allen in Hampshire County. ``We have a real hard time getting teachers to even apply here.''

Not all education advocates supported the one-day walkout.

``It's hard to think that you're going to accomplish something after the legislative session is over,'' said Jackee Long, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

``We got a good raise, we would have liked to have gotten more, but a 3.5 raise in pay _ we'll take what we got this year and try harder next year,'' Long said.

WVEA President Charles Delauder said the protest is important ``because it focuses everyone's attention on the need for quality educators in our classrooms.''

Gov. Joe Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said the walkout would not prompt immediate changes.

``The governor has been consistent in telling the leadership of both teacher organizations that he will not be calling a special session on teacher compensation this year, so if that was the thought process behind today's walkout, that's unfortunate,'' she said.

Teachers staged an 11-day strike in 1990, in a successful bid to change their salary ranking from 49th in the nation. That year, teachers received a $5,000 increase over three years. In 1980, nearly 7,000 teachers walked out for one day to protest a $950 raise.

It was not immediately known how many teachers participated in Wednesday's walkout.