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Teachers unions not satisfied with raise bill

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Teachers unions not satisfied with raise bill
By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter

A bill increasing the salaries of teachers at low-performing schools, while praised for providing incentives to work in areas of critical need, has been criticized by union leaders for not making pay for the profession more competitive.

The bill, passed in the final days of the Legislative session, provides an additional $2,000 to each teacher who is employed by a low-performing school and certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

According to the state Department of Education, there are 825 teachers in West Virginia with that certification, but only 43 are currently employed at schools expected to receive a low-performing designation. That means if the bill is signed into law, the state will only pay out an additional $86,000 to teachers each year.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee when asked if there was anything to celebrate in the bill. “It didn’t address our fundamental problem of poor teacher pay.”

The Legislature approved a $1,000 across-the-board teacher raise last year, and may well have been on its way to increasing salaries again this year as lawmakers in both houses proposed bills that would have raised the starting teacher salary in West Virginia. One bill even suggested incremental raises until the starting salary reached $43,000. None were taken up in committee though.

“How many were introduced and how many were passed,” said Christine Campbell, state president of the American Federation of Teachers. “You can’t really say they raised teacher salaries.

”Because the raises are limited to a select number of teachers, union leaders said West Virginia will continue to fall behind in competitive pay.

That doesn’t mean the Legislature’s action wasn’t needed.

Campbell said she believes providing an incentive to work at a low-performing school may improve education because it could pair even more certified teachers with underachieving students. The state currently has trouble attracting and retaining certified teachers.

“We do want our best and brightest working all over this state,” she said. “So, anything we can do to encourage them to be in those low-performing schools is worth the effort.”

However, Campbell wants to see if the raises have any effect on student performance

.“I want to see how this plays out,” she said. “Someone needs to keep track of it to see it makes a difference.”

While the Department of Education projects that 43 teachers are currently eligible for the raise, even fewer may receive it.

In addition to needing National Board certification, a teacher at a low-performing school must also be willing to mentor other teachers at his or her school before receiving the raise.

A low-performing school, according to the state Department of Education, is one among the lowest 20 percent of schools. A school’s ranking is determined by its three-year aggregate mathematics and reading/language arts scores on end-of-year student assessments.

A teacher who receives National Board certification must go through a challenging and rigorous process that takes a significant investment of time, money and energy. Studies suggest students of certified teachers learn more and perform better on assessments.

Both Lee and Campbell said they were disappointed in the lack of legislation addressing teacher salaries considering lawmakers pledged last year to make pay more competitive by 2019.There wasn’t a lack of discussion though.

“At different times during the session, I heard from legislators that one of the biggest problems in this state is that teacher pay is too low,” Lee said.

Campbell also said the majority of lawmakers she spoke to agreed and that many believe increasing salaries for teachers will have positive, long-term economic impact.
“Nothing was done to address that,” she said.A fiscal note prepared by the Department of Education estimates the state will also incur costs related to various charges and increases to retirement payouts.

The bill now awaits Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s signature. If signed into law, raises will become effective at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.