West Virginia Teacher Outline Strikers Demands, Discusses Potential Remedies
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Every public school in West Virginia is still closed after teachers walked out last Thursday. More than 30,000 teachers and other school employees are striking over issues of pay, health insurance and other benefits. Brianne Solomon is one of those teachers striking. She teaches art at Hannan High School in Ashton, W.Va., and she joins me now from Charleston. Hi.
BRIANNE SOLOMON: Hello.
CHANG: So are you in Charleston right now because of all the demonstrations and meetings at the capital today?
SOLOMON: Yes, I am. Every teacher I know has made it a point to either stand in front of their school and picket or they get together and carpool and come down and make the long haul to Charleston.
CHANG: What exactly are you asking for at this moment?
SOLOMON: The concrete number that I hear from the union presidents is that teachers want 5 percent. We want 5 percent now...
CHANG: A 5 percent raise.
SOLOMON: Yes. We don't want it promised later. We don't want a couple percent here and then maybe one more next year and then one more next year and then we'll see what we have.
CHANG: Can I ask you - how much do you get paid right now as a teacher?
SOLOMON: As a teacher - and I need to qualify this because I've been teaching 15 years. I have a master's with two more endorsements on it. So I'm on a master's-plus-45-credit-hour pay scale. And for me, with all of that, I'm happy to bring home around $45,000 dollars before taxes and insurance.
CHANG: What about more generally speaking? What's sort of the average range of salaries we see in the West Virginia public school system?
SOLOMON: Depending on which county you begin, you could find yourself starting out as a teacher making right around $30,000 a year.
CHANG: The governor says that the state is in really bad economic shape right now and that he needs all of you guys to just hang on at least one more year, when he expects there to be some economic recovery. Why is that unacceptable? Why do you have to see this entire raise you're asking for now?
SOLOMON: Well, because in his State of the State address, he attributed the road bond to putting West Virginia magically in the black. And he said, we have money. We're doing great. So guess what? All of the state employees heard there's money.
CHANG: How long do you intend to keep striking if the two sides can't close the gap?
SOLOMON: I think we're going to go as long as we need to.
CHANG: What about your students? Have you reached out to them and explained why you're doing this?
SOLOMON: Meetings have been going on since the beginning of February, so our students were aware. And they understand what we're doing. But I do worry about them. And we all do. I'm not the only teacher that feels that way.
CHANG: Have you heard from any parents or students - but I'm curious about the parents - who want you to just end the strike and get back to work?
SOLOMON: We do hear that. We hear parents say that the burden of child care is a lot. And it's not something they were prepared to do. And they're not sure. They're running out of options.
CHANG: But so far those pleas are not enough to put pressure on you guys to end the strike any time soon, it sounds like.
SOLOMON: Well, it's - we're in a bad place where if we just sort of tuck our tails collectively and slink home, we're going to lose the momentum that I feel like we have. And I know that that is how the majority of teachers and public employees feel right now.
CHANG: Brianne Solomon is a teacher at Hannan High School in Ashton, W.Va. She's one of more than 30,000 teachers and other school employees on strike in the state, and she is currently running as a Democrat for the House of Delegates. Thanks very much, Brianne.
SOLOMON: Thank you so much.
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