POINT PLEASANT —Teachers and service personnel of Mason County Schools will be on the job today (Friday).
Thursday evening an employee informational meeting was held at the Mason County School Board Office to discuss the issue of Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) costs, pay rates, and to decide whether or not a work stoppage was necessary. The room was filled with concerned teachers and service personnel from Mason County schools.
Superintendent Jack Cullen addressed the logistics of what a work stoppage would mean to administration and staff. Cullen referred to work stoppage guidance he received from State Superintendent Steven L. Paine and went over discussions between himself and fellow board members at an emergency school board meeting held earlier that day. (For more on this meeting, see adjacent story on Page 1 or at www.mydailyregister.com.)
School Board Member Dale Shobe also addressed those gathered, saying: “We support you 100 percent, whatever you decide, we’ll stand behind you.”
Board Member Jared Billings also offered his support to staff, adding, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. And I stand with each and every one of you here tonight.”
Fellow board members Rhonda Tennant and Meagan Bonecutter also offered similar words of support for the Mason County Schools staff as well. Bonecutter pointed out her husband is a teacher, with Tennant, like Cullen, recalling going on strike as teachers back in the 1990’s in Mason County. Board Member Greg Fowler was unable to attend the meeting.
Delegate Jim Butler (R), who represents Mason County in the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates also addressed the crowd. When referencing the PEIA plan Butler said, “I don’t want you to think we went through the whole summer knowing they were making these changes and it was just sprung on you, because it was actually sprung on us the same way you heard about it.”
Members of the audience asked Butler what he could personally do to help the staff of Mason County Schools with the PEIA insurance issues and pay raises.
“What I’m going to do is work to get the best deal for you…and I was involved with the conversations to get rid of the 365 Plan, I’m involved with the conversation of increasing pay and I’m looking at plans in order to pay into the PEIA,” Butler said, adding he would take the audience’s concerns back to Charleston.
Delegate Scott Brewer (D), who represents Mason County in the 13th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates, advised the teachers and service personnel, though PEIA insurance costs were a definite concern, a focus also needed to be placed on their pay rate. He explained six out of seven people in West Virginia are on PEIA insurance and their premiums are going up too.
“Your pay rate and your proposed wages, that’s what you need to be talking about, because it’s deplorable. It’s absolutely deplorable,” Brewer said.
Another general concern of the audience was the provision of coverage for an employee claiming a spouse on their insurance.
Sam Nibert, who sits on the Mason County Commission, but is also employed as a teacher of Mason County schools, explained that if an employee’s spouse is not on their insurance, then the spouse’s income will not be taken into account; however, if the employee’s spouse is claimed on their insurance the spouse’s income will be taken into account. This proposed change would cause significant increases to some employee premiums.
Nibert then called a closed meeting for employees only, so they could further discuss the issues and make a decision on whether to commence a walkout. Following discussion, employees decided against having a walkout today, though the issues of PEIA insurance and pay rates remain.
Beth Sergent contributed to this article.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.