The Times West Virginian

December 5, 2013

AFT’s goal is working together with legislators

By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — At the second annual Legislative Round Table on Wednesday, representatives from local chapters of the American Federation of Teachers met with senators and delegates from Marion and neighboring counties to discuss issues with the education system in West Virginia.

Stacey Strawderman, the president of the Marion County AFT, said she thought the round table was a step in the right direction toward finding solutions.

“I think the legislators listened and took a lot of notes,” Strawderman said. “I feel really good about the fact that they learned some new things.”

According to Strawderman, the goal of the AFT is to work together with legislators to make things happen.

“We’re a solution-driven union,” she said. “We want to work with them and not always have our hand out.”

During the round table, Strawderman, along with Sam Brunett, president of the Monongalia County AFT, and Mike Rogers, vice president of the Monongalia County AFT, presented key priorities of the union to the legislators.

Among those priorities were: providing a higher quality education for all students, improving compensation and benefits for all education personnel, containing health care costs for all public employees, protecting employees and students through a higher education overhaul, having more transparency and reducing top-heavy salaries at the administrative levels, providing a safe and orderly school environment, and providing automatic cost of living increases for retirees.

The AFT leaders and teachers who attended the discussion expressed their concerns in each of those categories and explained to legislators how the education system would continue to be negatively impacted if changes aren’t made.

According to Strawderman, one of the biggest concerns is the low pay that teachers and service personnel in West Virginia receive.

“I think that for education to really, really get better in our state, we’ve got to recruit and retain teachers,” she said. “In order to do that, we’ve got to have attractive pay packages.” 

Strawderman said that West Virginia currently ranks 48th in the country when it comes to teacher salaries. As a result, fewer college students are entering education as a field of study, and those who do are leaving the state to begin work in the profession.

It’s not just secondary education that is hurting, though. According to Sue Kelley, a professor at Fairmont State University and AFT member, state appropriation cuts are negatively impacting higher education as well.

“When we cut higher education, you are punishing the students of West Virginia,” she said. “We are making it so that higher education cannot do the job that it intends to do or that it needs to do for our students and our state.”

Delegate Mike Caputo said that he commended teachers and service personnel for remaining dedicated to their professions despite challenges.

“We’ve seen some changes in education and we’ve seen some tough times, but I want to thank you all for what you do because I know you all care about the children,” he said.

Delegate Linda Longstreth said that she will work with her fellow legislators to do everything possible to spark change.

“We’ll work with you in any way that we can,” she said. “That’s the promise that I can make to you.” 

And Brunett said the members of the AFT will continue to keep the lines of communication open when working with the legislators.

“The next step is helping the legislators as they agree on proposed legislation to make some of these things happen,” Brunett said. “We need to help them in the process and to offer solutions to some of the problems that arose over the last 20 years in West Virginia.” 

Strawderman said the ultimate goal of the AFT is to create measures and take action that can provide students with the best education possible.

“I think education has been lost in the shuffle,” Strawderman said. “We made a promise to our generations of students to educate them. This whole round table is dedicated to reclaiming the promise and start educating our students the way they should be educated.” 

Email Kaylyn Christopher at kchristopher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.