CHARLESTON –Gov. Jim Justice held three town hall meetings regarding West Virginia’s second ever statewide teacher strike on Monday.
Justice visited Wheeling Park High School in Wheeling, Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg and University High School in Morgantown.
Justice called teachers at Wheeling Park “smart, underpaid and underappreciated,” but said they needed to be back in their classrooms because children needed to be back in classrooms.
The governor also pledged to create a task force within the next seven to ten days to work to identify potential permanent funding sources for the Public Employees Insurance Agency and address other education issues.
Justice said he would appoint educators, West Virginians and non-politicians to the task force.
While Justice said he wants to call the legislature into special session, he wants to do so to discuss the co-tenancy legislation, which he wants the Senate to vote down.
Justice believes working on that and another drilling policy will inevitably help with the pay and health care issues for teachers.
"I will call us into special session to find a way out through co-tenancy and joint development and the mineral rights people ... you’ve got to find a way that satisfies everybody and raises the severance tax on gas," said Justice's official Twitter account.
Last week, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey calls the planned walkout illegal.
“Our teachers and school service personnel are among the state’s best and brightest, and I wholeheartedly support their cries for higher salaries and affordable healthcare, however a work stoppage of any length on any ground is illegal,” Morrisey said in a Feb. 21 statement. “Let us make no mistake, the impending work stoppage is unlawful.
Monday marked the third day of the strike. The strike will continue on Tuesday. While Justice signed a bill on Feb. 21 to give teachers a 2 percent raise next year and a 1 percent raise each of the following two years, the raise does not fix PEIA.
Morrisey said the illegal work stoppage affects hundreds of thousands of students and families across the state
“Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law,” he said. “We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”
The last walkout was in March 1990 when teachers in 47 of the state’s 55 counties participated. It lasted 11 days.
That strike triggered in a special legislative session focusing on education, which resulted in several changes to the state public school system.