This news story provided by The News and Sentinel

July 19, 2005

Wood County rates high on West Virginia pay scale

From Staff and Wire Reports

PARKERSBURG - While legislators and school systems in the Eastern Panhandle fret over the exodus of teachers to higher paying jobs in neighboring states, Wood County is in good shape for now.

"Our pay scale is higher than pay scales in neighboring counties in Ohio," said Bob Harris, assistant superintendent for pupil and personnel services. "Where we are so far ahead of everybody else in the state is the benefits package. We have been able to recruit."

That package offers about $9,000 a year in the form of continuing education, certification, dental insurance and more. Harris said it's one reason the county expects to fill approximately 100 positions by the end of the summer.

Salary increases and working conditions for teachers and other state employees will be the main item on the agenda when Gov. Joe Manchin convenes a special session of the Legislature in September. While he's still weighing proposals, Manchin has said he sees more worth in making the salaries of certain agencies or jobs more competitive than in granting an across-the-board hike.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, advocates raises for all employees, but said Manchin should consider a further increase in areas where higher salaries in border states or greater costs of living are a factor.

"Everybody ought to have the same base salary, but there ought to be recognition of a locality allowance," Unger said.

"That's certainly part of what we're looking at," Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said. "Everything's on the table."

Though they work for county school systems, West Virginia's 20,000 classroom teachers draw their base salary from the state budget. A number of counties augment their pay. The Eastern Panhandle counties Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan have maxed out the excess property tax levy they are allowed to put before voters for such funding.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said laws have been recently passed to assist education in growing counties. She said she has not decided whether she would favor locality allowances.

"I just don't know where you break the line," Boley said.

Harris said what would help Wood County most are changes to the timelines the state establishes for hiring new teachers. These get West Virginia counties started late in the game, after states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Texas are already targeting the best and brightest candidates, he said.

"They're offering signing bonuses, moving expenses, whatever they can," Harris said.

Competitive pay with border states is not an issue limited to the teaching profession. The Division of Highways recently increased pay across the board by 15 percent in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties as well as hiking starting salaries by 25 percent. About 60 DOH workers from other parts of the state, including District 3 which encompasses Wood and surrounding counties, filed grievances because they did not receive raises.

Boley said she is not sure how that was accomplished, but it should not be limited to those three counties. There are other areas in need too, she said.

DOH District 3 Engineer Rusty Roten, who was not among the employees filing a grievance, said the district has lost personnel because of salaries, but does not have the problems of the Eastern Panhandle, facing competition from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

"There (are) geographical, economic reasons for making a difference in salaries across the state," he said. "It's just part of the market."

Increases would make less of a difference in counties like Calhoun and Wirt, where the DOH is a major employer and in less competition, Roten said.

Still, salary adjustments are needed throughout the division, Roten said. For example, truck drivers in District 3 start out at $8.31 an hour.

Some public employees and their advocates fear the disparities that could emerge if the state pursues locality allowances.

"You just simply move the salary disparity further into the state," said Charles Delauder, president of the West Virginia Education Association. "We believe that you have to get everybody's salary up to start with."

But other public employee groups endorse locality allowances.


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