|Adena Barnette: WV and its teachers are heading toward a bad breakup GAZETTE MAIL|
Dear West Virginia,
In the wake of our governor's 2018-19 proposed budget, which includes a 1 percent pay raise for educators, I have realized we need to talk. I still think you're beautiful, but I am afraid that I might be forced to leave if you don't get some counseling.
You've done this before; I remember that scary feeling I got as a child in the late 1980s while reading the local news.
Back then, you made the same series of poor choices: your treasury faced a $300 million deficit. You began furloughing public workers whose health insurance was so terrible that their doctors and pharmacies would no longer accept their cards.
Teachers' retirements had unfunded liabilities of hundreds of millions of dollars. You defaulted on your bills, leaving teachers broke and powerless.
Then educators sprinted across the border for more opportunity. Most never came back.
It took strong, unionized teachers to push for higher wages. Teachers gained power through faculty senates and seniority through years' experience. It was a time when potholes were paved; the Capitol was even covered in gold leaf. The future looked bright.
Only now, in the afterglow, do we realize that you were committed to dreams, and not a real future.
West Virginia, you went back to your old ways of believing co-dependency is the right way to keep educators in your classrooms. So now we sit here with relationship issues comparable to what we had back in 1989 — low pay, waning benefits, veteran teachers feeling powerless, and morale literally in the dumps.
And before you ask, no PEIA approved pill or exercise recorded by PEIA GO365 will make you less of a fraud.
During the 2016 election cycle, then-Democratic candidate Jim Justice asked audiences to close their eyes and imagine. I knew "big" changes were on the rise.
Then, surprise, at the State of the State address, now-Republican Gov. Justice offered only a 1 percent pay increase as the reality to dwindling pay and benefits. I never imagined something so small and so fulfilling from someone so confused about his or her affiliation.
West Virginia used to be a state that thought their best days were ahead. So why do other teachers and I feel abandoned? Is it because legislators cheat on state employees with the likes of ALEC and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, thinking they can pay corporate interests in exchange for false promises that result in stagnant public wages, rising premiums and deductibles?
Or is it because the proposed 1 percent ($404) raise, could purchase only a single Little Caesars pizza to share with my family of one twice a month — and that's less than your "nothing burger."
While PEIA tried amending their approach to keep us in this relationship, family premiums could go up as much as 11 percent, while deductibles rise.
In this age of technology, West Virginia teachers know out-of-state educators have relationships not based on co-dependency. In fact, I have received proposals from 48 potential suitors who have offered far better relationships.
Friends are waving at me from other states, including Nevada, where teachers with my education level and years' experience earn compensation packages totaling $95,000 a year. While up the road in Columbus, teachers earn $70,000 or more per year.
While I am baring my soul to you, the person I love, is it right that I took home less than $30,000 in pay last year? Obviously, our family can only be our students, since I will never be able to afford kids of my own.
West Virginia, your wild, wonderful ways make me nauseous. You continue "to imagine" our reality. Your 1 percent proposal still leaves educators with a potential of a 10 percent decline in real pay and benefits.
I want to be here for you when you wake up. However, with already 727 unfilled teaching positions, you won't recognize yourself when you do
I love you, but an educator can only take so much abuse when all we are asking for is a safe worksite, a living wage and an affordable health plan in exchange for teaching our children.
Your long-suffering girlfriend
- Adena Barnette is president of the Jackson County Education Association a member of the West Virginia Education Association Executive Board.