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West Virginia teachers to continue strike over pay,…

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia teachers will continue their strike into next week, the latest response to what’s quickly becoming a deepening rift with the governor and Legislature over pay and health benefits.

Thousands of teachers and school service workers in all 55 counties will remain off the job Monday, union leaders announced at a news conference Friday afternoon.

“It is clear that education employees are not satisfied with the inaction of legislative leadership or the governor to date,” according to a joint statement from the West Virginia Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association. “Our members have spoken and the Legislature has not.”

From left, Heather Myers, Sharon Cobaugh and Jessica Kesecker demonstrate in animal costumes at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. All three are teachers from Eagle School Intermediate in Berkley County. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

A loud cheer echoed through the halls of the Capitol from teachers listening to a live feed from the news conference on their mobile phones.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said county school superintendents are being asked to keep schools closed for a third day because the teachers will return to Charleston. The walkout that was in its second day Friday already has drawn large crowds each day.

A state Department of Education spokeswoman declined comment. State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine has said the work stoppage is illegal and disruptive to student learning.

Missed class time is automatically added to the end of the school year.

“This is not an easy decision to make,” Lee said. “But it’s a decision that our members in every county gave us the authorization to make.”

Gov. Jim Justice has signed teacher pay raises of 2 percent next year and 1 percent the following two years. But teachers, who rank 48th in the nation in pay, have said the increases are too stingy. They also complain about projected increases in health insurance costs.

The Public Employees Insurance Agency, a state entity that administers health care programs for public workers, including teachers, has agreed to freeze health insurance premiums and rates for the next fiscal year for state workers.

The House of Delegates has passed separate legislation to transfer $29 million from the state’s rainy day fund to freeze those rates and to apply 20 percent of future general fund surpluses toward a separate fund aimed at stabilizing the employees’ insurance agency. Both bills are now pending in the state Senate.

Teachers are worried the proposed solution is only temporary or worse, especially if the state surplus turns out to be minimal.

Earlier Friday, Senate President Mitch Carmichael addressed the Capitol crowd briefly, telling them that “your points are well made. You have every right to make them and we hear you. We’re taking steps to address your issues.”

The crowd quickly interrupted him with chants, and he thanked them and left.

Before the Senate adjourned for the day, the Greenbrier County Democrat said he understands that tensions have been high and that “there’s a sense that trust has been broken over the years. But I believe we’re in a pivotal moment where that trust can be repaired now if we show each other some respect and we show each other some human decency.”

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Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen in Morgantown contributed to this report.

Striking teachers Michelle Myers, left, Holly O'Neil, center, and Suzanne Varner of McNinch Primary School in Moundville, W.Va. wave to passing cars outside the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va,  Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. West Virginia teachers are continuing their walkout for a second day as thousands showed up again at the state Capitol to press the Legislature to help them with pay and benefits. (AP Photo/John Raby)

Striking teachers Michelle Myers, left, Holly O’Neil, center, and Suzanne Varner of McNinch Primary School in Moundville, W.Va. wave to passing cars outside the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. West Virginia teachers are continuing their walkout for a second day as thousands showed up again at the state Capitol to press the Legislature to help them with pay and benefits. (AP Photo/John Raby)

Thousands of teachers and school personnel descended on the state Capital to demonstrate at the Capitol building on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.  (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Thousands of teachers and school personnel descended on the state Capital to demonstrate at the Capitol building on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

From left, Heather Myers, Sharon Cobaugh, Jessica Kesecker and Ashley Bowman demonstrate in animal costumes at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. All four are teachers from Eagle School Intermediate in Berkley County.(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

From left, Heather Myers, Sharon Cobaugh, Jessica Kesecker and Ashley Bowman demonstrate in animal costumes at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. All four are teachers from Eagle School Intermediate in Berkley County.(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Sonya Ashby, a library media specialist at Lubeck Elementary in Wood County, shows off her sign at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.  (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Sonya Ashby, a library media specialist at Lubeck Elementary in Wood County, shows off her sign at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Hayden Langdon plays on a phone at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Hayden Langdon plays on a phone at the West Virginia State Capitol on the second day of the teacher walkout in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

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