CHARLESTON - West Virginia's teachers unions are pushing for a teacher pay raise to make salaries competitive with those in surrounding states.
The average teacher in the state earns about $45,000, compared to $57,000 in Ohio and about $49,000 in Virginia, according to the West Virginia Education Association.
West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation for teachers' salaries, WVEA President Dale Lee told media outlets.
In 2013, the Legislature approved a wide-ranging education reform measure, Senate Bill 359, that called for more local control for county school boards, increased third-grade reading proficiency and other changes.
The WVEA and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia hope that teacher salaries will be addressed during the 2014 regular session, which begins Wednesday.
"Last year, we all agreed SB359 was only the first step. When you have teachers continuing to leave the profession, and when we estimate that more than 50 percent of our teachers are going to leave in the next five years, we have a serious problem, and we have to address that problem," Lee said. "We're very hopeful the governor will include in his State of the State a plan to ensure that we can recruit and retain the best teachers in our classrooms."
Both unions have proposed plans to increase salaries over several years. The AFT-WV's four-year plan would raise salaries by $2,000 in the first three years and a $4,000 increase in the fourth year.
Lee said the WVEA is looking at a multi-year plan but has not proposed a particular amount.
"We know that in order to raise salaries, this is going to have to be a multi-year campaign, which is one reason we haven't just arbitrarily set a figure. We also want it to be a collaborative effort and that's why we've been including as many folks as possible in this discussion," he said.
Christine Campbell, president of AFT-WV, said her union is not wedded to a particular amount.
"Right now, we are talking with all the legislators about a package," Campbell said. "We are working with them to ensure there is some movement to bring our compensation up near the surrounding states so we can be more competitive.
"We want to work with them to do what's best that fits into the budget," she said.
As of Thursday, 41 of the state's 55 county boards of education had endorsed a competitive teacher pay resolution. Lee said the WVEA expects additional counties to back the resolution.