Walk-ins held across Eastern Panhandle
By Hans Fogle, WV MetroNews
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Teachers across the Eastern Panhandle held walk-ins at area schools Friday morning in a show of solidarity amidst concerns about teacher pay increases and changes to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
Governor Jim Justice announced during a press conference on Thursday that controversial changes to PEIA would be delayed for one year, and state lawmakers are considering increasing Justice’s proposed one-percent pay increase plan.
Still area teachers like Eagle School Intermediate’s Tracy McDonald say there is still a lot of uncertainty about the future.
“The (PEIA) freeze is just a stalling tactic because it’s an election year,” she said. “We’re all going to be in the same exact situation next year.”
McDonald was part of the “Walk-In” Friday that she said not only sends a message to Charleston, but also increases awareness.
She said it isn’t just the community that needs a better understanding of what teachers face.
“At this point not even all teachers know what’s going on. And that’s why we’re conducting peaceful walk-ins, peaceful rallies. To get the message out there.”
W.Va. Teacher of the Year Katlin Thorsell was part of the “Walk-In” at Washington High School in Jefferson County where she said they saw a lot of support from the community.
“Seeing members from our community, and especially parents, supporting us really helps us in understanding it’s more than just us who are out there trying to push for these issues.”
Thorsell said she would ultimately like to see teaching held in the same regard as other professionals like doctors and lawyers.
“All of us have a bachelor’s degree. Most of us have a master’s or a doctorate. We’re constantly doing continuing education to renew our teaching certificates to renew what we do in our classroom.”
She said teachers she has met around West Virginia want to be here and are facing a number of challenges related to what’s happening in the capitol.
In Eastern Panhandle counties there is fierce competition from neighboring states, with teachers being offered as much as $20,000 more a year for a relatively short commute.
A rally Saturday is set for 2 p.m. in Martinsburg.
Teachers, state employees and community members are planning to attend.
Del. Mike Folk (63, R-Berkeley), Del. Jason Barrett (61, D-Berkeley), and State Sen. John Unger (16, D-Berkeley) are scheduled to speak.
A rally with teachers and other state employees is set for 11:00 tomorrow morning in front of Buffalo Wild Wings in Martinsburg.
Teachers are planning on heading to Charleston to push for changes on February 17.