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Workers picket at WV schools for the deaf and the blind

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By Marla Pisciotta

Although several meetings have taken place to discuss the employment situation for child care workers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, Sen. Donald H. Cookman, D-Hampshire, and union reps joined workers to picket the schools the morning of April 22.

“We weren’t satisfied with the meeting we had with (Superintendent) Dr. (Lynn) Boyer,” one worker said.

More than a dozen workers have begun walking up and down the sidewalk next to the schools along Rt. 50 in Romney two times a day.

Another worker on the picket line said we just want to make the public more aware of the situation. They should know that we are losing our jobs, she said.

“We feel the public is only getting one side of the story.”

Gayle Manchin, president of the West Virginia Board of Education, recently said she was pleased with Boyer’s progress with the schools. And although union organizer Anita Mitter with the West Virginia Education Association said she thinks Boyer will try to work things out and come up with a solution acceptable to everyone, picketing started. Workers said the decision was made by Mitter.

Cookman joined the picket line to protest the threat of child care workers losing their jobs.

Child care workers have been asked to earn an AA degree. Boyer has given them three years to earn the degree and a promise of an $8,000 increase in their annual pay in return.

Manchin said Boyer “is raising the bar for the students, for the faculty and for the administration” with that decision. The child care workers position will be replaced by “residential care workers” beginning July 2015.

In the interim, child care workers are being asked to take classes in both English and math to begin the work of earning the AA degree. But Cookman said he is concerned the schools will not give the child care workers a chance to retain their jobs. Some workers have been at the schools for more than 25 years.

“Even if the child care workers agree to obtain the required AA degree and no one that is deaf or has superior ASL skills apply for the position they would still have to have a successful interview to get the job,” he explained.

Cookman said he doesn’t understand why it is necessary to interview an employee for an opening when he or she has been working for the schools for years.

“My question is, when would the decision to hire be made — when the applicant agrees to obtain the AA or when they are interview or after the AA degree is completed?” Cookman asked.

The child care workers are asking for a guarantee to retain their jobs.

“Having an associate degree doesn’t mean you can do the job,” Mitter said.

Mitter said she and a small group met with Boyer last week to discuss the status of the transition.

“Our sticking point is we feel the current child care workers should be given priority to be chosen for the jobs because of their experience, seniority and commitment to the kids,” Mitter said.

Mitter said the child care position is not a teaching job but a parenting job.

“I do feel that Dr. Boyer is going to try working with us to come up with some way that would be acceptable to everyone,” she said. “We’re working on it.”