Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill Wednesday to raise the salaries of state government employees, despite the inadvertent removal of language that would make the teachers’ pay raises permanent and the teachers’ walkout planned for Thursday.
In a news release issued late Wednesday night, Justice said the Legislature “did the responsible thing” in passing Senate Bill 267, which will give teachers a 2 percent raise in 2018-19, and a 1 percent raise each year for the next two years. The bill will also give school support staff and State Police a 2 percent raise this year and a 1 percent raise next year.
“We need to keep our kids and teachers in the classroom,” Justice said. “We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue. The PEIA board has also voted to approve changes I recommended — I’ve asked and the PEIA board has voted to eliminate the mandated participation in the Go365 program, the use of combined household income to determine rates, and to freeze the plan for 16 months while we examine it and enact a long-term solution to the PEIA problems.
“Now we need to turn our focus back to continuing public education reforms and making our state educational system the best in the country.”
In the rush to amend and pass the bill Tuesday evening, the West Virginia Senate inadvertently removed language clarifying that the pay increases for teachers are to continue after June 2021.
Without the provision stating in Senate Bill 267 that the proposed raises — $808 in 2018-19, plus an additional $404 in 2019-20 and 2020-21 are “continuing thereafter” — a literal interpretation would be that the increases are essentially bonuses that expire as of June 30, 2021.
However, Senate spokeswoman Jacque Bland said Senate attorneys are confident the intent of the Legislature is clear that the pay increases are to be ongoing.
“It’s our belief there’s no reason that the bill would need to be technically vetoed,” she said. “The intent is clear: These raises continue after 2021.”
The bill passed the Senate on a 27-6 vote at 6:29 p.m. Tuesday, and was followed by a 59-37 passage vote in the House at 8:52 p.m.
Those votes followed a series of closed-door meetings in the House and Senate, leading to the Senate Rules Committee amending the bill at about 5:30 p.m., and moving it onto the Senate’s active calendar.
Legislative leadership was intent on rushing the bill to passage before a scheduled statewide teacher walkout beginning Thursday, and to coincide with action of the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board earlier Tuesday freezing PEIA premiums and benefits for teachers and other public employees at current levels for the 2018-19 plan year.
The Senate’s omission dates back to the House of Delegates amending the Senate’s original pay raise proposal on Feb. 12, with the House instead proposing that teachers get a 2 percent raise this year, followed by three additional years of 1 percent increases.
For the fourth year of the increases, the House Finance Committee amendment specified: “For school year 2021-22, and continuing thereafter, each teacher shall receive the amount prescribed in the State Minimum Salary Schedule, as set forth in this section, plus $1,212.”
(The bill builds the 2 percent raise — $808 — into the salary schedule, then spells out the cumulative annual increases for the subsequent 1 percent — $404 — raises.)
When the Senate, on Tuesday, instead opted for a 2 percent, 1 percent, 1 percent teacher pay package, the paragraph spelling out the fourth year of the increase, in 2021-22, was eliminated — along with the “and continuing thereafter” provision for the raises.
The Senate’s action did not affect school service personnel, who are to get a 2 percent ($440) raise this year, built into their salary schedule, and a single 1 percent ($220) raise “for school year 2019-20 and continuing thereafter.”
Similarly, the bill clarifies that 2 percent, 1 percent pay raises for West Virginia State Police personnel are increases to the employees’ annual salaries. (State Police personnel are the only government employees whose salaries are enumerated in state code, but the same raises for other government employees are to be built into the state Budget Bill.)
Bland said Senate attorneys believe that, even if there were a legal challenge contending that the teacher pay increases legally cannot be ongoing, future Legislatures could pass corrective legislation.
“That section of code could easily be amended to make the intent crystal clear before 2021,” she said.