March 1, 2018 / 6:49 AM / 7 months ago

West Virginia schools stay closed, despite pay rise promise to striking teachers

(Reuters) - West Virginia schools will be closed again on Thursday, said the state education department, despite the state’s governor promising a pay increase to striking teachers.

West Virginia teachers on Tuesday seemingly ended their four-day strike that had kept more than 277,000 students out of class, after Governor Jim Justice and union leaders agreed to a five percent pay rise.

Justice and union leaders also agreed to set up a task force to deal with rising costs in the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency, which runs health programs for public workers.

But on Wednesday, billed as a “cooling off” day, 3,000 teachers and educational staff protested at the state capitol in Charleston, voicing doubt that lawmakers will approve the pay rise and angry that no action has been taken on insurance costs, local media reported.

“We’re feeling let down,” Lori Murray, a history and civics teacher at Spring Valley High School told WVNews.com. “You’ve given us a bunch of promises, but you’ve not given us anything to back it up with.”

By Wednesday night, all 55 school districts in the state announced they will be closed on Thursday, according to the state’s department of education.

“We believe the best course of action is to return to school tomorrow; however, we realize not everyone will,” the West Virginia Education Association said in a statement.

The state’s House of Delegates passed a bill to give teachers and school service personnel a five percent pay raise on Wednesday. The bill also gives police a five percent pay raise and other state employees a three percent hike, local news reported.

The legislation now goes to the state Senate, where its success is in doubt, the Parkersburg News and Sentinel newspaper reported.

Teachers walked out last Thursday after Justice signed legislation to give teachers and state police a two percent raise. Teachers were also expected to get one percent increases in each of the next two fiscal years.

West Virginia ranked 48th among the 50 states in average teacher’s salary in 2016, at $45,622, according to National Education Association data.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Michael Perry

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