CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Teachers across West Virginia are one step closer to getting a pay raise, though it may not be as much as they had hoped.The Senate on Wednesday passed an amended version of Senate Bill 391, legislation proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to give pay increases to public school teachers and school service personnel. Tomblin suggested a 2 percent raise for teachers in his January State of the State Address, but the Senate Education Committee earlier this month changed the bill to allow for a $1,000 pay increase. The committee also inserted language calling for teachers' starting salaries to reach $43,000 by 2019.But the Senate Finance Committee, citing budget concerns, amended the bill to restore the governor's original 2 percent proposal. When the bill went to the Senate floor, it was changed again to give teachers a $837 annual raise. That's on top of incremental yearly raises already built into their contracts.Dale Lee, executive director of the West Virginia Education Association, said he's pleased with the bill overall.
"I like the $1,000 amount better, but certainly in tough economic times I recognize the action here," Lee said.The version that passed the Senate will cost the state about $34.2 million. The $837 increase means first-year teachers will make $32,512 annually. Supporters of the bill said the aim is to put West Virginia teacher salaries on par with that of other states to attract bright, young teachers to the area."(The bill) does what we're trying to do long term which is raise the starting salaries for teachers to among the highest in the region," said Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.Lee said once the pay raises are in place -- the bill becomes effective July 1 -- West Virginia's teachers will no longer rank among the lowest paid in the region."If we get it up to $43,000 in 2019, it will put us somewhere in the middle," Lee said. "That will put us above about three states and below a couple of states. So that's important we make us competitive."But Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said he thinks it is wrong to promise pay raises on what he called "borrowed money.""That $34 million is really closer to $70 million or maybe even $100 million," he said after the vote. "We already know next year we'll have to go back again into some of our reserve accounts to balance the budget. What we don't know is in two years will we have to go back and do the same thing?"McCabe noted he supports salary increases, but urged the Legislature to be more fiscally conservative in tight budget years."What I would hope the Senate would do is in the future when we propose a salary increase we look at it from the perspective of where is the money coming from, do we have the money to spend and are we at the same time addressing efficiency and effectiveness," he said.Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, also voted against the bill, which passed 30-2. Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, was excused from voting and Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxon, was absent.The bill will now go to the House of Delegates. Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-5149 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.