By Stephen Huba
For the Weirton Daily Times
NEW CUMBERLAND - With both houses of the West Virginia Legislature now in Republican hands, public school teachers are looking to Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for support in their drive to get a pay raise for the second consecutive year.
At Monday's Hancock County Board of Education meeting, Melanie Donofe, president of the Hancock County Education Association, and board President Jerry Durante acknowledged that Republican priorities may differ from a Democratic Legislature that passed a $1,000 increase for teachers and a 2 percent increase for service employees earlier this year.
Teachers in West Virginia do not have collective bargaining rights, and their pay scale is set by the state Legislature.
Senate Bill 391 not only established pay raises for the 2014-2015 school year but also set a goal for teacher pay, so that by 2019, the state minimum salary for a beginning teacher should be $43,000, Donofe said.
"That represents an increase of over $11,000 from the current starting salary. And that money does not just go to new hires. It is spread throughout the salary schedule," she said.
West Virginia currently ranks 48th in the United States for teacher salaries - a drop of 10 spots since 2003. The average teacher salary in West Virginia last year was $45,453, compared to $57,140 in Ohio and $62,569 in Pennsylvania.
Hancock County ranked 13th in the state for average teacher salary last year, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. The average salary for Hancock County teachers for the 2013-2014 school year was $47,687, according to the WVDE.
Durante noted that when he was a teacher, West Virginia also ranked 48th in the country for teacher salaries.
"When you get that far behind, it's hard to catch up. ... In order for us to compete with neighboring states, it's going to take more than a $1,000 raise," he said.
Donofe said a Northern Panhandle teacher can go to Pennsylvania and some Ohio school districts and make $10,000 to $15,000 more a year. School districts in the Eastern Panhandle have been unable to fill hundreds of vacancies because of competition from neighboring states.
"Without significant changes in salary, those shortages are going to become even more acute," she said.
Donofe asked the board to repeat its support of the West Virginia Education Association's competitive pay campaign in 2013.
The board likely will act on the 2014 letter of support at its next meeting.
The next session of the West Virginia Legislature opens in January.