(CN) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice agreed to terms Tuesday evening to end the statewide teacher strike following several hours of talks between opposing sides.
During the press conference Tuesday, Justice said that he is a big supporter of public education, and that he hopes this move is just the beginning of public education investment in the state.
Justice agreed to a 5 percent pay raise for all school service personnel and a 3 percent pay raise for all other state employees. The teachers and students will go back to school on Thursday following a “cooling down day” on Wednesday.
After the Governor spoke at the press conference, union representatives spoke as well. AFT-WV President Christine Campbell said she hopes that this will be the beginning of a movement in the right direction for the state.
“The teachers don’t want to be first in the country in pay,” she said. “They know where we live — in West Virginia. They want to be out of 48th.”
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he did not rule out another strike if the deal struck today fails to come to fruition, saying they “reserve the right to call our teachers and service professionals out at a later date if we need to.”
Rank and file members of the teachers’ unions seemed less than pleased with the solution however, questioning what the state plans to do about the rising costs of their health insurance premiums.
Governor Justice said there is a gambling bill in the state House right now that, if passed, could provide necessary funding for the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
After the massive crowd gathered on the front steps of the West Virginia Capitol heard about the pay raise, they cheered vociferously but booed after they were told their insurance issues were to be dealt with later.
Governor Justice said that a conversation with a sixth grade student named Gideon Titus-Glover sparked his change in position.
The Governor said that while he was attempting to explain investments to the young man, Titus-Glover asked him, “Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart and then I can in turn, turn around and do smart, good things for our state?”
The Governor intimated that he had been looking at the issue and considering what was the prudent thing to do and hadn’t looked at education as an investment until that moment.
Governor Justice said Tuesday and earlier in the week in town hall meetings that he is planning on calling a special session to address a natural gas severance tax which he says can also help fund PEIA. Justice said he also supports adopting co-tenancy and joint development, which he said is needed to bait the gas companies into agreeing to a higher severance tax.
Senator Richard Ojeda said he is against co-tenancy however, telling a crowd of teachers gathered today in front of the Senate chambers that it puts farmers and homeowners in agricultural areas of West Virginia at risk.
“You know when you have a break in a natural gas pipeline, your underground springs are poisoned,” Ojeda said. “When you have livestock and you have to truck in water, you will go broke. If you grow corn or something like that and there’s a break that you don’t know about, by the time you find out, your crops are dead and your land is poisoned for the next hundred years so I can understand what those people are saying — we don’t want that.”
‘If we have a special session for just energy,” Ojeda said, “my fear is what will happen is what already happened with Senate Bill 600, which is going to raise your electric bills but will cut the energy company’s bills. We have to get to the point where we focus more on the citizen than we do on the lobbyist who wants to give out a $2,000 check.”