CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who was out among teachers at the state Capitol today, suggested a special session would be a wise move to address the concerns of teachers and service personnel.
“There’s got to be a pathway forward. I would like to see them call a special session,” Manchin said today in the Rotunda. “A special session would really go a long way in helping them.”
Manchin said he had meetings at the state Capitol today although he didn’t provide details about with whom or about what.
This was the second straight day that thousands of teachers have poured into the state Capitol to rally for better wages and greater stability for the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
Teachers and service personnel in all 55 West Virginia counties walked out out of schools this week. Thousands came to the Capitol while others picketed in their communities.
Today was the 45th day of West Virginia’s 60-day legislative session.
Manchin, a former governor, said it’s getting so late that a special session only makes sense.
“You’re going to the end of the session right now. Right now trying to fix something as momentous and monumental as this is is going to be hard to do in the last two weeks.
“Call a special session and go back to work and figure it out. And get the revenue. You’ve got to get the revenue and you’ve got to fix healthcare. Those have got to be fixed.”
The last time teachers went on strike in West Virginia, in 1990, state schools Superintendent Hank Marockie called for a three-day cooling off period and then-Gov. Gaston Caperton called the Legislature in for a special session.
The Legislature, earlier this week, voted for a pay increase that would provide teachers, service personnel and State Police an average 2 percent raise next fiscal year. The structure provides two additional years of average 1 percent raises for teachers and one more year for the other two employee classes.
Teachers, though, have said that amount is not enough to encourage beginning educators or to keep veteran classroom leaders in the profession.
Public employees have also complained about skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for their health plans. The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board, at the governor’s urging, froze the plan for the coming fiscal year — costing the state an estimated $29 million.
But public employees have said that’s a short-term fix. They would like guarantees of stability in the coming years.
Manchin said he would like to be involved.
“I’ll meet with the leadership, I’ll meet with the legislators on both sides, everything I can do,” he said. “We’ve been through this before. I was here in the ’90s when they went through it and I saw how horrible it was. It’s uncalled for. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to education.”
Manchin said he’s still getting up to speed on some important factors, including state revenue.
“I’ve not been here. No one’s shown me the revenue,” Manchin said. “I haven’t been in the state enough lately. I wish I was. But once you see the revenue stream and the projections, there are some ideas I have.”
The walkout has received national attention. Already there have been stories on CNN and in the Huffington Post.
Among those who gathered at the Capitol on Friday was Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association.
“As educators from around the country watch this, we see that our teachers in West Virginia are fighting for student learning conditions,” Moss said. “Student learning conditions are educator working conditions.”
“This is historic. This is historic. For West Virginia, a right-to-work state, we’re sending a loud message. A very clear message that banding together we can make a difference.”