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W.Va. deaf, blind schools workers meet with union representative

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By Marla Pisciotta 
The Associated Press

ROMNEY, W.Va. — A second meeting within as many weeks was held Friday at the Ebenezer Church, Sunrise Summit, to discuss the fate of child care workers at West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

Anita Mitter is an organizational development specialist with the West Virginia Education Association.

“This was a work meeting because the child care workers have a lot ahead of them. They are facing the possible loss of their jobs,” Mitter said.

Del. Ruth Rowan attended the meeting.

“My hope is that something can be accomplished peacefully, not only for the children but to keep the schools,” Rowan said.

Rowan said she was saddened to see one of the child care workers leave the meeting in tears.

Mitter said the workers wrote concerns and questions on note cards that would be presented to WVSDB Superintendent Lynn Boyer.

“I spoke to Dr. Boyer last Thursday. She seems open to discussion,” Mitter said.

Mitter hopes to meet with Boyer this week to discuss the issues concerning the child care workers.

“I want to see if there is any wiggle room and if we can come to agree on certain things,” Mitter said.

Mitter said on behalf of the workers she hopes to be able to reach a common ground.

“Our main concern is protecting the child care workers currently employed and find a way to work in to the new positions. We would like for them to have priority on positions available,” Mitter said.

Rowan said she offered to go with Mitter along with several child care workers when they meet with Boyer.

“I’m friends with the house parents and have worked with Dr. Boyer. I see both sides,” Rowan said.

In the meantime, the workers have begun circulating petitions asking for signatures in support of child care workers being given the priority for the new residential care specialist openings.

The petition states, “The current child care workers will be in their positions through June 30, 2015. At that time their current jobs will be phased out. A new position of residential care specialists will be created and the child care workers are not guaranteed any of those new positions.”

In addition, the workers made picket signs during the meeting.

Mitter said if some sort of agreement couldn’t be reached, the workers would schedule pickets of the schools.

Boyer said during the next 15 months support will be offered by Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield.

The WVSDB’s administration maintains that a continuing education is essential for students after they leave class and are back in dorm rooms.

There are 35 child care workers who work in the dorms with residential students during noninstructional time from 3:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Some workers have been at the schools for more than two decades, others a few years.

Sen. Donald Cookman said that the current child care workers should receive priority over others interviewing for their jobs after they have received their degrees.

“Why should a person that has been in a position for decades have to apply for something they have been doing for years?”

All child care workers have been asked to earn an associate degree and will receive an increase in annual salary of $8,000 after they obtain the degree.

“That salary (increase) will begin to be seen in the first paycheck,” Boyer said.

A flier handed out at the meeting said the restructuring and redesigning of the residential care staff will mean the current jobs are being phased out by June 30, 2015, the workers have three years to complete their degree, classes will begin this summer, and current workers have between one and 36 years of service to the school but will not be guaranteed the new positions.