A recent Board of Education meeting couldn't have gone better for Jefferson County Education Association President Rhonda Reynolds when she addressed board of education members about a statewide campaign now underway to make teachers' salaries competitive - regionally as well as nationally.
The competitive pay campaign was unveiled by the West Virginia Education Association in September and is now in the process of being presented to county BOEs by local teachers.
Reynolds stressed the steady decline of state teachers' salary rankings, noting that West Virginia had ranked 30th nationally in 1993 but had since slid to its current ranking of 48th.
She said there's also a "salary gap" that exists between West Virginia and surrounding states, a pay discrepancy that is making it "very difficult to recruit and retain teachers."
Ultimately, the goal is to gain the attention of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state legislators. Towards that end, local boards are being asked to sign a resolution of support that will be sent to Charleston, Reynolds said.
"It's not about us, but the future," she said.
Several teachers were in the audience and wore buttons supporting the competitive pay campaign.
Board member Mariland Lee, who chaired the meeting in the absence of president Gary Kable (who arrived late due to a family commitment) and vice president Scott Sudduth, praised Reynolds and the teachers' union for participating in this collective effort.
Lee said research shows that state teachers have had only an $8,000 increase in 13 years.
"I recognize that this is probably why so many of you are here tonight and I share with you this concern. Hopefully our state will do something about that," said Lee, a former educator.
"It really bothers me that we are now 48th in the country," she said.
Board member Larry Togans urged Reynolds to meet with area legislators, adding that he believes the JCEA will find support among those locally elected officials.
Similar support was expressed by board member Mark Osbourn, also a former educator, who said, "This is long overdue and hopefully we can get a multi-year pact."
Lee said the resolution will need to be placed on an upcoming meeting agenda by superintendent Susan Wall so that board members can officially vote on it.
Speaking after the meeting, Reynolds said she was pleased but not surprised by board members' comments.
"The board of education here has historically supported the employees here in Jefferson County, and I would not foresee them being anything but supportive," said Reynolds, who has worked in the district for 27 years.
WVEA field services director Nicola van Kuilenburg, who has been working in Morgan, Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire, Hardy and Mineral counties helping with this effort, said she is heartened by what's being accomplished at the local level.
"These types of presentations are being done before the local boards and they are going well. We were very happy that so many teachers in Berkeley County turned out to show their support even though it was a pretty chilly evening," she said.
"While the various counties are all different and have some specific needs, they all share a desire to pay teachers competitively and be able to retain great teachers," van Kuilenburg said.
Berkeley County BOE members have not yet officially signed the proposed resolution.