Teachers strike to continue statewide today

Upshur’s Martin crossed party lines to support tabling bill

BUCKHANNON — First-year Del. Carl “Robbie” Martin, R-Upshur, who won the office in November 2018 and represents the majority of Upshur County, was one of the 53 members voting to table Senate Bill 451 indefinitely Tuesday afternoon.

“People were arguing the bill but they were misinformed on what in the bill,” Martin said. “I felt like we still needed some time for people to read over the 136-page bill. It was clear not everyone everyone understood what was in it and I wanted everyone to have a chance to know exactly what was going on in the bill.”

“The reason I voted the way I did today was it became clear that this was something that was not going to pass. I want our teachers to get back to work. I want them back in the classroom and I thought if it was voted down today, they would stop striking.”

However, the three state education union leaders called for the work stoppage to continue Wednesday. All counties but Putnam closed school for the second day in a row.

Buckhannon-Upshur High School teacher Brittney Barlett is also president of the Upshur County chapter of American Federation of Teachers – WV.

“This wasn’t ever about a pay raise,” she said. “We actually went out of school to fight against a pay raise and killed our own pay raise – so I think that shows where our priorities are.”

Barlett had been speaking with representatives and following the bill at the capitol Tuesday

“We were excited,” she said. “I was actually at lunch. Everybody cheered. Then we saw which side people voted and didn’t understand why. People noticed a couple delegates had changed their votes at the last second.”

Ann Osburn, president of the Upshur County Chapter of the West Virginia Education Association, said it comes down to trust.

“We are happy with the way they did things today but we are still not trusting in them,” she said. “They still have 24 hours to bring this bill back up. We are going to give it a little bit more time to make sure it dies completely because we are not sure what they are going to do. After tomorrow if they do nothing with it, then it’s done. Every day we take it day by day.”

Barlett said someone explained how SB 451 could still be brought back in a 24-hour time period.

“Since people changed their votes at the last second, we were hesitant,” she said. “They told us they wanted us to go back to school — that everything was OK. We’ve waited a whole year for a fix for our insurance so we don’t have a whole lot of faith that this bill will actually die.”

Martin said he had to look up the 24-hour rule himself.

“It states that someone from the majority of that vote is able to recall [the vote] in the same session or the following session,” he said. “It is possible for someone to recall the vote until the session ends tomorrow. Then there would have to be a majority vote to say yes, we want to recall it. From what I have been told, it’s not going to be recalled. Even if someone would make that motion, I still think that recall motion would fail.”

Allowing charter schools is one of the major concerns, according to Barlett.

“We don’t have the funds to fund our own schools,” Barlett said. “If someone needs to fix education, they need to start with public education.”

Charter schools have been successful in some states but Barlett said those states also have higher tax bases and funding streams that allow them to fund both charter schools and public schools.

“West Virginia hasn’t fully funded education in a while,” she said. “Give us the money and we will show you what we can do with it.”

Martin voted in favor of the version that first passed the House but said he wanted the charter school component structured differently.

“The way the bill stated was not how I would have liked to see it,” he said. “For a charter school to be available, I think it should be up to the local board of education. From what I could understand from reading that, the state would create a charter school board and they would determine the criteria for it. I think it should be up to the local boards to decide if they want it. Then they should the ones to make the criteria such as certified teachers. That bill did not address it that way — originally I thought it was that way and I learned it wasn’t quite that way.”

During the previous House debate, Martin said he wanted to clarify what happened when he voted for a charter school amendment.

“It was an accident,” he said simply. “The gentleman had about 13 different amendments and I was looking at a different amendment number. I made the mistake of voting for that. There were four different versions (of charter school amendments). I voted against the others ones but not the first one because I was looking at the wrong number.”

Martin resigned from the Upshur County Board of Education to seek the House of Delegates seat. He said he hoped that there would be more done this session regarding education and expressed disappointment about not being appointed to the House education committee.

“There’s a lot of things we need to get done in education but we are back to where we started and we haven’t done much for the education system in this session,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus called school off in Upshur County for the second day after a conference call with the three local union leaders and board president Dr. Tammy Samples.

“We are hoping tomorrow will be our final day and our decision makers in Charleston will do what they need to do,” she said.

Before the work stoppage, Upshur County had only taken three snow days and could take more before they have to be made up, according to Stankus.

Educators and service personnel rallied in front of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church and the Upshur County Courthouse Tuesday.

Osburn said, “We wanted to let the public know we are out to support our kids and we will be back out tomorrow.”

Osburn and Jessica Grose, president of the Upshur County School Service Personnel Association, were at the rallies. Grose said her organization is opposed to the charter schools and believes “every child should have a public education.”

They also had issues with the seniority and Education Savings Account components in the bill.

“It’s about the students,” she said. “It’s not about the teachers and the service personnel.”

The majority of parents and community members seem to understand the work stoppage, according to Osburn and Grose.

Osburn said, “I would say the majority are supportive because they realize we are getting rid of a bill that would give us a raise. We are willing to give that all up so we don’t have the charter schools and the education savings accounts.”