by Marla Pisciotta
For The State Journal
Child care workers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind have been speaking out for months against the administration's decision to re-align their jobs.
They have picketed, traveled to Charleston to speak with the state Board of Education and the governor, and consulted numerous legislators.
Their efforts seem to have paid off.
A meeting was called at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a continuing effort to try and resolve the tension and conflict between child care workers and management at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.
In a letter provided to the media and others involved School Superintendent Lynn Boyer wrote, “In the spirit of working together for the success of our students, I consulted with the West Virginia Board of Education and some of its staff members. We discussed the concerns that have been voiced and looked for viable avenues to allay the apprehension of the child care workers and still ensure the quality of our current staff is elevated. After consultation with our attorneys, we were able to agree to make an adjustment to the proposal that will allow us to come together and focus on accomplishing this change in a collaborative manner.”
“All child care workers who wish to transfer to the position of residential care specialist will be allowed to do so without application or interview as long as there is written intention that the required degree will be completed by June 30, 2020 or technical courses taken when one already has a degree field.”
The letter continues saying, “This process guarantees that every child care worker can retain his or her higher salary with years of experience applied. This opportunity carries with it the obligation to engage in coursework that ends with the required degree or enhancements.”
Sen. Don Cookman, D-Hampshire, has been an ally of the child care workers.
“This is a huge concession being made by the superintendent. In essence it guarantees all the child care workers jobs,” Cookman said Tuesday evening.
Cookman was not at the meeting and said he had not spoken with the child care workers.
“I'm sure that some of them will not be happy with the arrangement. Some just don't have the time to take the classes,” Cookman said.
Boyer has had the support of the state board continuously throughout this situation.
In April, Gayle Manchin, West Virginia Board of Education president said the board was very pleased with what Boyer has done.
“She is raising the bar for the students, for the faculty, and for the administration,” Manchin said.
The child care workers job issue surfaced when Boyer presented a plan to the state board to transition child care workers at the schools to residential program personnel.
The translation included each worker would be required to earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree in child development, psychology, social work or a related field – or a written commitment to obtain the degree at personal expense within three years. That time frame has since been changed to five years from date of hire.
The new position carry an $8,000 increase in salary at each level on the scale, and child care workers who are hired will be placed on the scale with all their years of experience counted, Boyer said. (The $8,000 raise will be applied in the first paycheck after July 1, 2015.)
“In addition, the WVSDB has committed to preparing all child care workers who apply with counseling on resume development, applications and interview processes.”
Some workers have been in their positions for 25-30 years.
“Why should a person that has been in a position for decades have to apply for something they have been doing for years,” Cookman said.
The ongoing dispute between the administration and the child care workers has brought the situation to the attention of other legislators.
Charles Trump, Republican candidate for state senate, is already proposing a bill that would help the workers. Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, and Delegate Darryl Cowles, R-Morgan, also plan to introduce a companion bill in the House in support of Trump's idea. Cookman said he also plans to introduce a bill when session convenes.
Trump's bill is designed to amend state code exempting each existing child care worker employed at the WVSDB from having to comply with any requirement that he or she have an associate's degree.
In July, Manchin told the child care workers the state board is raising the standards for every student in West Virginia.
“Higher expectations are necessary,” Manchin said.
Trump said if his bill is passed the state board of education and the WVSDB administration would have no choice but to obey the law.
But all these efforts are void following the Tuesday meeting.
“Throughout this process, there have been child care workers and others who have decided to rise to the challenge of self-improvement for the children and for their own futures. I look forward now to many others also accepting that challenge so that we can begin anew to work together and demonstrate to our community and colleagues on campus and across the state our collective commitment to be all that we can be each day,” Boyer wrote.
Last fall the state board met in Hampshire County. They looked at options to move the schools because of the financial outlay in some form or another. Following the meeting Manchin said Romney is the best location for the schools and that is in large part due to the commitment of the community.
Manchin said she and the board felt the community sort of pledged to partner with the WVSDB.