CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Education Association is taking the public's pulse on its proposal to again boost pay for public school teachers.According to the WVEA-commissioned poll released Monday, 58 percent of 2012 likely voters agreed that West Virginia teachers were due for a pay raise, while 31 percent of respondents disagreed.Of the respondents who thought that teachers should receive a salary increase, 39 percent thought teacher's pay should be competitive with that of surrounding states, 24 percent thought it should be on par with the national average, and 37 percent thought it should reflect compensation of similar jobs in the state.Three hundred likely voters were contacted by telephone in mid-August by polling group Grove Insight.Dale Lee, president of the WVEA, said the union decided to put a poll in the field because the morale of school employees is "approaching an all-time low.""Teaching used to be a very respected profession," Lee said in a news conference on Monday. "People equate respect with salaries."West Virginia currently ranks 48th nationally in teacher pay, nearly $12,000 below the national average, according to the WVEA.
An average West Virginia schoolteacher made about $43,500 in base pay last year, according to state salary data.That is significantly below the pay of neighboring states like Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio, Lee said. He said West Virginia teachers made $16,274 less than the average teacher in Pennsylvania, $20,951 less than a teacher in Maryland, $13,029 less than Ohio teachers and $5,776 less than Kentucky teachers.Lee said competitive teacher salaries are needed to recruit and retain quality candidates, or the state risks having a chronic shortage of teachers like it did several years ago.During the 2008-09 school year, more than 2,000 classrooms in the state didn't have certified teachers, Lee said."I am hugely concerned about the morale of teachers," Lee said. "There are a huge percentage of teachers eligible to retire and we're not having people to come in [and] fill those positions."Lee says he will ask the Legislature for an across-the-board pay raise for teachers in this legislative session. He also hopes that boosts in teacher pay will be a top priority in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State address Wednesday.Teachers in West Virginia received a $1,488 raise from the Legislature last year.Reach Amy Julia Harris at email@example.com or 304-348-4814.