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Legislative Plan Ends 12-Day West Virginia Teacher Strike

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West Virginia teachers returned to work last week after legislative leaders pledged to develop a comprehensive plan for funding education and to adopt it during a special session to be called by Gov. Gaston Caperton.

The teachers' 12-day strike was settled March 18, when they voted to accept an agreement offered by Keith Burdette, president of the Senate, and Speaker of the House Robert "Chuck" Chambers.

The agreement reached with the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia Federation of Teachers provides that educators, legislators, and the Caperton administration will develop a strategy for meeting both the immediate and long-term needs of education.

The plan, expected to be complet4ed by June 30, is to be submitted to the Governor with the recommendation that he call a special session during the summer to implement its proposals.

If Mr. Caperton declines to do so--which is considered unlikely--Senator Burdette and Delegate Chambers have promised to press their colleagues to decide independently to hold the session.

"Our state has been bitterly divided over this strike and the healing process must now begin," the lawmakers said in a joint statement. ''We will either continue to argue over what has happened to public education in West Virginia àor begin to agree on what is needed to improve it."

Similar to Governor's Offer

The proposal that ended the strike was similar to a settlement put forth March 13 by Mr. Caperton, who offered to organize an "education summit" that would lead to "appropriate legislative action" at an unspecified time.

After two days of intense negotiations with the Governor, however, the proposal was rejected by the teachers' unions as being too vague.

"His mistake was in not being specific in his proposal," said Dennis N. Giordano, executive director of the 16,000-member w.v.e.a. "The key difference was the specificity in the recommendation from the Senate president and Speaker of the House."

Because West Virginia has no collective-bargaining statute for teachers, the strike was settled by what is essentially a "good faith" agreement, Mr. Giordano noted.

Robert Brown, executive director of the 3,000-member w.v.f.t., expressed optimism that the strikeel10lwould result in concrete improvements for education in the state.

Teachers who participated in the strike will not be paid for the days they missed. The average loss of income per teacher will be $660, according to the state education department.

In addition, each county system will have to make up the two days of classes that were lost when the state superintendent, Henry Marockie, ordered schools closed for a cooling-off period.

Salary Increases Approved

Before adjourning, the legislature appropriated $27 million for teachers' salaries, which will provide raises of between $535 and $1,500--an average 4 percent increase statewide. Teachers' salaries in the state are equalized to make up for differences in counties' abilities to supplement teachers' pay.

Legislators also agreed to continue to pay the full cost of teachers' health-insurance benefits and to pump $109 million into the Teachers Retirement System, which has been running large deficits.

Union officials said last week that they expect the special session to result in short-term salary gains for West Virginia teachers, whose average salary--$21,904--ranks 49th in the nation.

In addition, the legislature is expected to consider a permanent funding source for education, in order to remove the annual uncertainty over funding that has characterized legislative sessions for many years.

Meanwhile, the state supreme court has scheduled arguments next month to determine whether a Kanawha County judge had the authority to issue a statewide injunction ordering teachers back to work.

The supreme court recently upheld another circuit-court decision declaring the teachers' strike illegal.

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