By Mannix Porterfield
A campaign to fatten the paychecks of teachers and reverse their exodus into the greener pastures of surrounding states was launched Monday by the West Virginia Education Association.
“We’re losing ground,” WVEA President Dale Lee said in getting a head start with the public and Legislature in advance of the 2014 session.
Lawmakers haven’t approved a salary adjustment in three years, and Lee suggested the state has reached a critical point in trying to keep young, qualified school teachers in front of West Virginia students.
For instance, he pointed out, colleges and universities graduated some 1,500 students with education degrees alone last year, but only 400-plus stayed in West Virginia to teach.
“We have openings like crazy,” Lee said. “Raleigh County this year has 74 openings.”
Lee said the state continues to witness the loss of teachers to higher paying neighboring states.
“That’s the whole key to this,” Lee told The Register-Herald in an interview.
“With the surrounding states, the gap is growing much worse. A lot are leaving the state and a lot are leaving the profession. It’s a combination of both. We’re losing teachers across the border.”
Two decades ago, salaries paid to West Virginia teachers ranked the state 30th in the nation, the WVEA leader noted. Today, that ranking has plummeted to 48th.
A starting teacher earns $31,600, while the average salary is $45,452.
“Ideally, a starting teacher should make $40,000, and the average should be $60,000,” Lee said.
Lee said the pay scale simply isn’t attractive enough, and it is especially tough on beginning teachers.
“When you have a student loan debt, and want to raise a family, you just can’t do it on what you’re paying teachers in West Virginia,” he said.
Lee outlined no specific salary ranges in what the WVEA plans to ask lawmakers to approve next winter.
“We didn’t get into this problem overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight,” the WVEA president said.
“We’re asking to get a multi-year plan to address the program and make our salaries competitive with the surrounding areas.”
Already, Lee has met with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, but no promises were given in this era of tight money and budget constraints.
“He realizes we have to do something,” Lee said.
“We had discussions with him, and I think he tried to look at funding sources. He made no promises. We’re in the discussion stage right now.”
Lee said his organization wanted to set wheels in motion now, well in advance of the legislative session.
“The more we educate everyone — the legislators, the governor and the public — the more people will see the need to ensure that the classrooms have quality teachers in front of our kids,” he said.
“Our kids deserve that. It’s going to take teachers united across the state having their voices heard.”