With 'Omnibus' Bill Anticipated, Education Unions Outline Points of Support and Opposition

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By Dave Mistich, WV Public Broadcasting

Unions representing public educators and school service personnel are trying to stave off a bill that hasn’t even been introduced yet. What some are calling an omnibus education bill would boost teacher salaries and benefits, but could also reform education in ways the unions oppose.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association, the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, the West Virginia School Service Personnel and the West Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals say they also support a proposal that would allow educators to bank sick days and use them for credit upon retirement.

In a letter addressed to West Virginia lawmakers Monday, leaders of six unions representing public educators, principals and service personnel say they support a proposed 5 percent pay increase and a $150 million contribution to stabilize the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

However, the groups have raised concerns over other rumored provisions in what many are calling an omnibus bill.

"We have been advised of the desire to run a bill that links salary increases and PEIA to other reform measures wanted by legislative leadership in a single bill. We are adamantly opposed to such a tactic," union leaders wrote in the letter.

While the letter does not specifically state those provisions, Republican leaders in the Senate have called for the establishment of charter schools, an education savings program and differential pay that would offer higher salaries based on location and subject certification.

Union leaders are also questioning the constitutionality of a bill that would address multiple topics and sections of state code.

"Education employees, as well as the public, deserve an open and transparent path to proposals becoming law. We believe unrelated items should be voted on separately and they should pass or fail based on their own merits," the letter states. "We also believe coupling unrelated items into a single bill violates the 'single object' provision of the constitution, thereby effectively killing the bill."

Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker said the bill is still in the drafting phase and declined to say when the bill is expected.