The Latest: Schools in all counties staying closed Thursday - InfoNews

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The Latest: Schools in all counties staying closed Thursday

Annie Hancock, a teacher from Jackson County, holds her sign outside of the capitol building after WVEA President Dale Lee outlined the terms for ending the walkout on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Striking teachers are to return to the classroom on Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice said in announcing he is offering teachers and school service personnel a revised 5 percent pay raise in the first year to end their statewide walkout. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)
February 28, 2018 - 9:49 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Latest on a statewide walkout by teachers in West Virginia over pay and benefits (all times local):

12 p.m.

The West Virginia Department of Education says all public schools in the state's 55 counties will remain closed Thursday despite the announced agreement Tuesday night between leaders of the unions representing striking teachers and school service personnel and Gov. Jim Justice to end the walkout.

The department's list kept growing Wednesday night even after the House of Delegates voted to approve the 5 per cent raises in the deal.

The Senate is expected to consider it Thursday sometime after it convenes at 11 a.m.

The walkout began a week ago across the state.

Strikers protesting low pay and rising health care costs have expressed doubts about politicians' promises short of actions that will guarantee raises and protect them from further hikes in benefit costs they say are squeezing them further.

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8 p.m.

The West Virginia Department of Education says all schools in 27 the state's 55 counties plan to remain closed Thursday despite an apparent agreement between leaders of the unions representing striking teachers and school service personnel and Gov. Jim Justice intended to end the walkout.

The department's list has been growing through the evening even after the House of Delegates voted Wednesday night to approve the 5 per cent raises in the deal.

The Senate adjourned before considering it and plans to return on Thursday.

The walkout began last Thursday closing all 55 counties' public schools and continued through Wednesday.

Strikers protesting low pay and rising health care costs have expressed doubts about politicians' promises short of actions that will guarantee raises and protect them from further hikes in benefit costs they say are squeezing them further.

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7 p.m.

The West Virginia House has voted 98-1 to provide average 5 per cent pay raises to teachers, school service personnel and state troopers in the coming year.

The 5 per cent is the raise Gov. Jim Justice proposed in a negotiated deal with unions intended to end the statewide walkout by West Virginia's public school teachers.

Senate approval is still needed.

The Department of Education says schools in 11 of the state's 55 counties will still be closed Thursday.

In the Senate, where President Mitch Carmichael expressed skepticism about revised tax estimates to support that raise, lawmakers adjourned until Thursday.

The governor's office attributes higher projected sales and income tax receipts to the state's major road rebuilding program starting shortly and the recently approved federal tax overhaul.

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6 p.m.

The House Finance Committee has approved an amended bill that would provide average 5 per cent pay raises to teachers, school service personnel and state troopers in the coming year.

The chamber's Republican majority immediately took up the bill on the House floor, where minority Democrats said it should have happened sooner.

The 5 per cent is the raise Gov. Jim Justice proposed in a negotiated deal with unions intended to end the statewide walkout by West Virginia's public school teachers.

In the Senate, where President Mitch Carmichael expressed skepticism about revised tax estimates to support that raise, lawmakers adjourned until Thursday after receiving details of the revenue estimates.

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5:30 p.m.

Schools in at least three more West Virginia counties are indicating they will stay closed closed despite moves to end a statewide teacher walkout over pay and health insurance costs.

Teachers in all 55 West Virginia counties walked off the job beginning Thursday to demand higher pay and to protest rising health insurance costs. Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday evening proposed a 5 per cent pay raise, moving to end the walkout after he met with union leaders for teachers in all 55 counties.

Despite plans for teachers to return to classrooms Thursday, school officials in Harrison and Wyoming counties issued separate statements that their schools would remain closed. And the state Department of Education's school closings website says Taylor County schools also will remain closed. Harrison County school officials said its closure was "in the spirit of maintaining unity" while Wyoming County schools did not elaborate. The state website did not list Wyoming County schools as being closed.

Earlier, union officials said teachers in Gilmer and Mingo counties would not return to work.

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5 p.m.

Gov. Jim Justice has issued an executive order to create a task force including educators to "explore all avenues" that will lead to a permanent fix for the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Many striking teachers say finding a permanent funding source to cover projected increases in their insurance costs is a key issue. Several have expressed skepticism about promises and suggested a dedicated increase in state severance taxes in the state's growing natural gas production.

Justice writes that finding a solution takes time and the task force will consider possible increased taxes on oil and gas, revenue from sports betting if it's legalized, tax dollars from state roads projects, growth in the state economy and getting outside bids for the insurance program.

4:30 p.m.

West Virginia Schools Superintendent Steve Paine says he expects a statewide teachers' strike will end.

Paine issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that "my expectation is that all public schools in West Virginia will be in session on Thursday."

Paine's statement contrasts that of union representatives in at least two counties who say they're staying out Thursday. West Virginia Education Association representatives for Gilmer and Mingo counties expressed teacher frustration over pay raise proposals and health insurance benefits as reasons they wouldn't return to classes.

On Wednesday afternoon, the state Department of Education website listed school closings Thursday in Gilmer and Mingo counties. The website later was taken down.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Alyssa Keedy didn't immediately return a request for comment.

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3:45 p.m.

Union leaders say teachers in at least two West Virginia counties are refusing to return to school Thursday despite an announcement by the governor for a proposed higher pay boost intended to curtail a statewide walkout.

Representatives for the West Virginia Education Association in Gilmer and Mingo counties tell The Associated Press that teachers will remain out of the classrooms Thursday.

Justice is offering teachers and school service personnel a revised 5 per cent pay raise in the first year.

Teachers also want a permanent solution to rising costs in their insurance plan.

WVEA representative Allen Stump, whose seven-county region includes Mingo, says the insurance issue "seems to be the driving force in Mingo County."

Gilmer County WVEA representative Tiny Foster says teachers are waiting for the pay raise bill's introduction in the Legislature and that they "haven't seen anything more than just the governor's promise."

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11:55 a.m.:

Gov. Jim Justice's proposed 5 per cent pay raise to end the walkout by West Virginia teachers is getting a mixed reception in the Legislature where approval is needed.

Justice's Tuesday evening announcement followed his meeting with union leaders for teachers in all 55 counties.

They plan to return to work Thursday after striking a week earlier over low pay and rising health insurance costs.

Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead says it appears Justice's new 2019 revenue estimates "should allow us to afford larger pay raises."

But Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael says he's "skeptical" and the Senate is "fiscally conservative."

Hundreds of teachers at the Capitol Wednesday chanted "we won't back down." Others held a sign targeting legislators in the upcoming primary: "Make 'em pay in May."

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

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