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West Virginia governor announces deal to end teachers’ strike

West Virginia governor announces deal to end teachers’ strike
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s governor said Tuesday that teachers and educators will get a 5 percent pay raise, and that striking teachers will return to work on Thursday.

The deal came on the fourth day of a strike by West Virginia teachers, as thousands of people again descended on the state Capitol to protest poor wages.

“My commitment to education has been consistent from day one,” Gov. Jim Justice said on Twitter. He said that all other state employees would get a 3 percent raise this year.

A teachers’ group said on Facebook that “Schools are called off on Wednesday for a cooling off period and will resume on Thursday.”

“The long and the short of it is, now we have concluded with at least as far as an agreement that we can possibly conclude, that our teachers will go back to work on Thursday,” Justice said at a press conference. “Tomorrow, we’ll use tomorrow as like a cooling off day because we’ve already got some schools that have been canceled.”

On Tuesday a large crowd outside the state Senate chamber loudly chanted slogans — including “United we stand!” and “Where is justice?” — and waved homemade posters as a walkout that began last Thursday escalated.

“We are fed up. Enough is enough,” said Jamie Heflin, 38, a single mother who teaches at Lenore K-8 School in Williamson. “We’re tired of the disrespect.”

The four-day strike had left more than a quarter of a million students out of class in the 55 counties across the state, rattling some officials.

“Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia and will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time,” West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine said in a statement last week.

“I encourage our educators to advocate for the benefits they deserve, but to seek courses of action that have the least possible disruption for our students.”

In 2016, the average salary for West Virginia teachers ranked 48th in the nation, according to data compiled by the National Education Association. The organizers of the protests have said many teachers are forced to take second jobs just to make ends meet.

“We can’t be doing our jobs for less and less and less money,” said Carmen Soltesz, 37, a middle school social studies teacher in Williamson who has been on the job for a decade.

Image: Teachers John and Kerry Guerini of Fayetteville, West Virginia, hold signs

John and Kerry Guerini of Fayetteville, West Virginia, hold signs at a rally at the state Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia on Feb. 26, 2018.