Senate panel changes teacher pay bill

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By Phil Kabler
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill to give pay raises to public school teachers and school service personnel advanced Thursday out of the Senate Education Committee -- with a change intended to give more bang for the buck to newer teachers.

The new version of the bill (SB391) would provide an across-the-board $1,000 raise -- instead of giving a 2 percent pay raise to teachers, as Tomblin proposed.

Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said the intent is to get a bigger increase to newer teachers.

"What I felt like we should be doing is getting salaries for starting teachers up first," Plymale said.

For teachers making less than $50,000 a year, the $1,000 across-the-board raise is larger than a 2 percent increase.

The amended bill also sets a legislative goal of increasing the starting salary for teachers to $43,000 by 2019.

Currently, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no teaching experience can draw a salary as low as $26,917.

Plymale said the across-the-board raise would help narrow the salary gap between new and veteran teachers.

"If you do a percentage [raise]," he said, "it only widens the gap."

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, stressed that, under existing law, teachers get annual increment pay raises of about 1.5 percent.

"There is a guaranteed, built-in salary increase for the first 35 years," Carmichael said. After 35 years' service, there are no additional increment pay increases under the law.

Plymale said the $1,000 across-the-board raise would have a larger price tag than the 2 percent proposal.

Tomblin's proposed 2 percent hike has an annual cost of about $34.26 million. A fiscal note for the amended bill was not available Thursday.