Teachers unions say the governor is using fuzzy math in his proposal for teacher salary raises — and school employees will be shortchanged as a result.

Gov. Joe Manchin says that in his tenure, he’s done right by teachers, pouring millions of dollars into salary increases and working to solve the teacher retirement crisis he inherited.

The problem is: They’re both right.

Politics have made strange bedfellows of the state’s rival unions, who are banding together in a rare show of unity to criticize the governor’s proposal.

Though they’ve only seen it behind closed doors, the West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association say they are not impressed.

AFT-WV President Judy Hale said the proposal earmarks local share refunds that the Legislature approved in 2007 for salary, instead of adding new money to the pot. The result is that counties that used the money for other things would have to rework their budgets.

“In Preston County, the school board voted to use that money to give an optical benefit to county personnel, so it leaves that county board in a real bind,” Hale said.

AFT-WV and WVEA say they agreed with Manchin’s idea, but it’s a buck short and a day late. Last year, before counties decided what to do with the funds, both unions asked boards to put it toward salary, but many chose to put it to other uses.

“Now that he wants those monies for something different than what they were being used for locally, that is a takeback,” Hale said.

WVEA Executive Director David Haney adds that the governor’s proposal won’t treat all school workers equally, making delineations between classroom teachers and librarians and speech pathologists and other school personnel.

What’s worse, those who do get the raise will not see much of an increase.

“We have dropped to 48th in the nation, and that is a problem, but what’s worse is that the gap between the teachers in West Virginia and the teachers in the contiguous states is growing. Teachers can cross the border to make substantially more money,” Haney said.

But all the criticism isn’t for lack of recognition that Manchin has been trying to help teachers, Haney said.

As the governor’s spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg points out, Manchin has proposed increasing the budget for public education by $222.7 million since taking office in 2005, including his pending proposal. Nine out of every $10 of that has gone to increasing teacher pay.

Manchin also touts the $1.4 billion devoted to shoring up the teachers’ pension fund.

“We have applauded the governor and continue to, for the surplus funds that he directed to the teacher retirement plan, as well as when he secured the tobacco settlement funds for the pensions,” Haney said.

“Not only is it in the interest of classroom teachers that that program is funded but it’s to the advantage of every citizen in the state.”

The National Education Association says the average teacher in West Virginia was paid $40,531 in the 2006-07 school year, which is more than $10,000 below the national average of $50,964.

Both the WVEA and AFT-WV have called for nearly $10,000 to be added across the board to the salary schedule.

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