The Times West Virginian

September 25, 2013

Competitive salaries are key to keeping good teachers

Times West Virginian

— How can you adequately describe what it is that teachers do on a daily basis?

Sure, they instruct students, teaching them a range of subjects from math to science to civics. They’re the ones at the front of the classroom, explaining fractions or the difference between “their” and “they’re.”

But teachers’ responsibilities go far beyond that.

Many spend their evenings and weekends at home finalizing lesson plans, grading papers and preparing for the upcoming days and weeks in the classroom.

They attend conferences to network with others in their profession, ultimately becoming better prepared to handle their job.

They volunteer to serve on school committees.

They coach student-athletes.

It’s a big job, and one that leaders of the West Virginia Education Association argue is underpaid.

That’s why the teachers’ union has launched a campaign it hopes will not only fatten the paychecks of teachers, but also help keep them teaching in the Mountain State.

WVEA President Dale Lee said the union hopes to get a head start with the public and Legislature in advance of the 2014 session. That’s crucial, considering that lawmakers haven’t approved a salary adjustment in three years, and Lee suggested the state has reached a critical point in trying to keep young, qualified school teachers in West Virginia.

As an example, Lee said 1,500 students graduated last year from state colleges and universities with an education degree, but only a little more than 400 of those graduates stayed in West Virginia to teach.

“We’re losing ground,” Lee said, adding that the state continues to lose teachers to neighboring states where the pay is higher.

“With the surrounding states, the gap is growing much worse,” Lee said. “A lot are leaving the state and a lot are leaving the profession. It’s a combination of both. We’re losing teachers across the border.”

Lee went on to say that the pay scale isn’t attractive enough. Two decades ago, salaries paid to West Virginia teachers ranked the state 30th in the nation. Today, that ranking has plummeted to 48th. A starting teacher earns $31,600, while the average salary is $45,452.

And although Lee outlined no specific salary ranges in what the WVEA plans to ask lawmakers to approve next winter — “We didn’t get into this problem overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight,” the WVEA president said — he noted that the group is asking to get a multiyear plan to address the program and make the state’s salaries competitive with surrounding areas.

Lee was right when he said the problem didn’t happen overnight. And we know the solution will take plenty of work and compromise.

But we believe there is a solution to be found, and it’s one that must be found soon so that we can keep quality teachers in our state.

As Lee pointed out, “Our kids deserve that.”