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Sore Talking Point: Gov. Caperton Meets With Former Union Official

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Charleston, W.Va.--The issue of who would speak for West Virginia's teachers--already complicated by the fact that the state has no collective-bargaining statute for public employees--became a sore point in the teachers' strike last week.

On March 11, Gov. Gaston Caperton insisted that he would not meet with teachers' representatives until the strike was called off. Instead, he met with Tom Vogel, the former president of the West Virginia Education Association.

Calling the discussion "counterproductive," the wvea reiterated that Kayetta Meadows was the elected president of the statewide teachers' union.

"It is appalling that the Governor would disregard the W.V.E.A.'s request for direct, face-to-face talks while meeting with a former representative," Dennis N. Giordano, the association's executive director, said in a statement.

Mr. Giordano, a former president of the New Jersey Education Association who became executive director of the W.V.E.A. last June, also found himself being criticized by the Governor's office.

G.C. Morse, the Governor's press secretary, accused Mr. Giordano of using "New Jersey labor tactics" in a state with a different culture.

When Mr. Caperton did meet with teachers'-union representatives the next day, he asked Mr. Vogel to participate in the talks. Mr. Giordano was not invited.

However, Mr. Giordano said, Ms. Meadows telephoned Mr. Vogel to ask him not to attend. Instead, she was joined by the union's lawyer and business director for the long negotiating sessions.

Mr. Giordano said he was "not at all uncomfortable" in being left out of the negotiations with Mr. Caperton.

"The Governor has chosen to single me out as though I am some sort of red flag," he said.

When Connie McClure graduated from college with her teaching credentials, she had opportunities to leave West Virginia. But like many teachers here, she8chose to stay "to make sure my parents and grandparents are taken care of."

That was 22 years ago. Now Ms. McClure, an art teacher at Herbert Hoover High School in Kanawha County, has earned a master's degree plus 36 credits.

"I thought I'd be making $30,000 for the first time this year," she said, "but I'm not."

In her 19 years at the high school, located in what natives call a "holler" along the Elk River, Ms. McClure has watched the student population drop from 1,040 to 640. Many families moved away when a nearby petroleum refinery closed.

But some things have not changed. Her students still sit at the same tables that filled the room when she began teaching. Today, they are so scarred and worn that the students cannot do drawing assignments.

Ms. McClure routinely spends her own money to buy art supplies for the students and to lend them money for a hot lunch.

Such conditions, she said, demonstrate that West Virginia teachers are "head first down a barrel" in a state that has made education a low priority.

"I have a son who's in college studying finance," she added, "and I'm not going to encourage him to stay here when he graduates."

Teachers at Piedmont Elementary School in the heart of Charleston were heartened by evidence of support for their cause from the surrounding community.

A law firm across the street from the school, which serves the children of the city's poorest residents, offered the teachers the use of its restrooms as they picketed.

Parents donated $500 to a strike fund at a local bank. And Domino's delivered free pizzas and sodas to the striking teachers at Piedmont and at Capital High School.

About half of the teachers at Piedmont chose to stay out of the classroom, while all but two or three teachers at Holz Elementary School, located in the affluent South Hills section of Charleston, continued to teach.

Several teachers said they felt pressure from the community to remain on the job.

"I can't explain it," said one. "It's a very affluent neighborhood, and they expect you to be here."

As negotiations between Mr. Caperton and the two teachers' unions began March 12, teachers from across the state gathered at the state Capitol for a rally.

Dressed in red, which became a symbol of teacher unity in the strike, they crowded into the Governor's ornate reception room and cheered as the talks began.

Keith B. Geiger, president of the National Education Association, rearranged his schedule to appear at the rally in support of the state's teachers.

"This is not the time for individual decisions," Mr. Geiger told the teachers. "You have to take cues from your leaders. ..."

"There is a time to say, 'Enough is enough is enough,"' he added. ''Being 49th [in pay] isn't much fun."--ab

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