W.Va. announces end to teachers’ strike, but hasn’t finalized salary increase

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared an end to the teachers’ strike on Tuesday. Yet two days later, most county schools are not back in session. 

On Tuesday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced a 5 percent raise for state teachers and the end to the teachers’ strike. Yet one week after the walkout started, many public schools will remain closed on Thursday.

The reason for the statewide confusion and empty classrooms 24 hours after the tentative end of the strike was announced comes down to the fact that while Justice promised the 5 percent raise for teachers, the actual heavy lifting of getting the bill to pass fell to the Legislature, which was slated to vote on the bill Wednesday, the day designated as a “cooling off” period before Justice insisted teachers would be back to work.

However, as of late Wednesday evening, the bill had not been passed by both legislative chambers.

The House of Delegates passed the bill raising salaries for teachers and other public employees and sent it to the Senate, but the Senate had already recessed for the evening, leaving the bill stalled for the night.

This left the deal in limbo until 11 am on Thursday, when the Senate was due back at work.

Union leaders for teachers and service personnel encouraged teachers to go back to work anyhow, citing the progress made to get teachers more pay.

“We believe the best course of action at this time is to return to school tomorrow, however, we realize not everyone will,” WVEA President Dale Lee said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, referencing the fact that the decision of whether to go back to work fell to each individual county.

Shortly after the union leaders’ press conference, it was clear many schools would not be open.

Boone, Logan, and Mingo Counties were among the first to announce that their schools would not be in session. That was followed by a number of other counties announcing their schools would be closed or on delay.

Brian Schuerman, a meteorologist and Lincoln Middle School teacher, tweeted a map showing the growing number of counties that decided to remain closed on Thursday as uncertainty and frustration over teachers’ pay continued.

Meanwhile, Justice issued a letter to state employees on Wednesday saying that “our Legislature has worked very hard” on the deal and insisting, “I’ve believed from day one that education should be our centerpiece, and I continue to follow that same philosophy today.”

Teachers, though, remain skeptical that the Legislature will pass the bill.

“If they do not, we have gained nothing,” said Kara Stover, a Clay County teacher and one of the educators not returning to the classroom on Thursday.

It remains unclear whether, even if the bill passes, all counties will immediately decide to go back to work. A number of teachers remain unhappy about the deal struck with Justice and have vowed to continue on strike, deal or not.