Legislators speak with Mercer teachers about pay, insurance - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Legislators speak with Mercer teachers about pay, insurance


Today, the Mercer County Education Association held a Town Hall in Princeton, where educators voiced their opinions to state delegates and senators.

Saturday's town hall took place at the Chuck Mathena Center. From teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria workers... the auditorium was nearly full. President of the state Education Association, Dale Lee, was the first to speak. Lee was glad to see PEIA's proposed health app, better known as GO-365, made optional. "If you say something is voluntary, but you're subject to punitive measures if you don't do it... that's not voluntary to me." One of the delegates in attendance was Marty Gearheart. Gearheart reminded folks that he himself was an educator before going into politics. He says the House of Delegates agrees that teachers deserve a raise. "There's a bill on the house floor now that would double the governor's proposed salary increase in the first year. I think that's positive. I think that's going to pass the house."
The PEIA has holes in their budget. To fill those gaps, they notified all state employees that insurance rates would go up. This has some educators asking for other options. Gearheart says, "I also would like to see that we could offer a range, that the state could pay of that insurance... somewhere from 80% up to 100%. So the employees can choose their plan." 
Perhaps the most energetic politician in attendance was Senator Richard Ojeda. Ojeda is introducing a bill that would raise the natural gas severance by 2.5%. "If we can ever do something to take care of the PEIA issues with our teachers, it would be like giving every single... not just teacher... but every state employee, every police officer, every fire fighter, across the state... it would be like giving them a pay raise. 
Ojeda points to a wealth of natural gas in West Virginia, and believes the state should take advantage of it. "What's important, is we need to, as legislators, stand together and say 'we're not going to give it away, the way coal was given.' We're going to make sure that OUR citizens benefit from this."
The town hall lasted for 3 hours. Teacher and coach Joey Riffe had mixed reviews of the legislators. "There were some things that caught me a little off guard. I was satisfied with a couple. But overall, I just want them to see that we're not going to sit down and let them continue to push over top of us."

Even though teacher salaries ARE ranked 48th in the nation, Dale Lee says West Virginia is in the top 5 when it comes to graduation rates.

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