“If you put money in schools, you’re making smart people. And if you have smart people, then you can make more smart investments.”
That’s what Gideon Titus-Glover said to Gov. Jim Justice during a town hall meeting at Wheeling Park High School on Monday. It left the state’s CEO speechless.
When announcing his proposal to the end of the teacher walkout Tuesday, it was Gideon the governor remembered after visiting three communities in the Mountain State.
“Yesterday along the way, a little kid that’s a sixth grader … he stood up, and he asked me a couple questions about tourism, and then, I went to try to explain to him what an investment was,” Justice said during the press conference. “And I said to him, I said Gideon, if I were to give you a dollar, and it would instantaneously turn into eight, every dollar that I gave you kept turning into eight, is that not a good thing? Because even if I gave you $20 million, and it turned into $160 million, wouldn’t that be fabulous?
“And he said, ‘absolutely.’
“And I said, ‘See Gideon, that’s an investment.’
“And he looked right back at me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart and then I could in turn, turn around and do smart good things for our state?’
“Well, he’s right. He’s right,” Justice said.
Gideon, the son of Philip and Michelle, was not informed of the proposed end of the work stoppage or the governor’s comments until returning home from a youth group gathering. But once he learned the news, he said, “Someone received a text about us going back to school on Thursday, and what he said about me, and it was kind of a shock. I didn’t expect any of this to happen because I was just speaking my mind. And I didn’t expect this much attention, either.
“After the town hall, everyone told me that I did a good job, and then (the press conference) happened and I really haven’t had much time to think about it,” he continued. “What I said the second time I went up about investing in our schools wasn’t something I had thought about. It just came out, but it is what I believe.”
His mother, Michelle, who is in her fourth year at Middle Creek Elementary as a transitional kindergarten teacher, knew her son wished to pose a question to Gov. Justice, and after screening the inquiry and assisting him with some research, Gideon waited.
“I thought it was a good question, but we didn’t know if he would get the chance to ask it because the governor just kept talking and talking. Eventually, I elbowed him and said, ‘Go.’ That’s when he went up to the microphone,” she recalled. “That’s when one of the teachers in the front row said, ‘Hey, he’s a kid. Let him talk.’ And that’s when my son got the chance to ask his question.”
Initially, Gov. Justice deflected any conflict-of-interest claims concerning his belief in investing in the state’s tourism dollar, and to further his point he asked Gideon to return to the microphone.
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“That’s when the governor made the comparison about one dollar turning into eight dollars because of tourism, and that’s when my son said what he said,” Michelle said. “And after the governor asked him how old he was and he answered that he was in sixth grade, that was the only time when Jim Justice was speechless. It knocked him out. He called it astounding.”
But that was not a comment from Gov. Justice that Gideon appreciated.
“Honestly, I took it with a grain of salt because of all of the things that he had already said (during the town hall),” the sixth-grader at Triadelphia Middle School said. “I pretty much ignored it because I didn’t expect anything.
“I thought he was kind of rude to the people there. He called us rednecks, he told us to get smart, things like that,” he said. “I know I didn’t appreciate those things at all, but now, it all makes me feel pretty good to know that I was part of change.”
The teachers and service personnel initiated the work stoppage last Thursday and have not been in the schools since. But all employees in the state’s 55 counties, according to Gov. Justice, will report as scheduled Thursday after the he promised the leaders of the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that he would present state lawmakers with legislation that would increase the compensation for school personnel by 5 percent and all other state employees by 3 percent.
Gov. Justice also explained that a task force will be formed to solve the funding issues for the Public Employee Insurance Agency, and that no solution will be directly tied to gas and oil severance tax collection.
“I am thrilled to get the kids and all of the employees back to school, so I am glad this all worked out in the end,” said Del. Erikka Storch (R-3rd), a graduate of Wheeling Park High School. “I really had no clue this issue would be resolved, but now I am really glad that the governor took a hard look at the revenue and found the money. What we have to do is work with the revenue that his office tells us there is, so that’s why we did what we did trying to help the teachers and service personnel.
“The legislation will have no problem getting passed in the House of Delegates, I don’t believe, because we’ve wanted to help the teachers, service personnel and all public employees as much as possible, but it did not look like much was possible before today,” she explained. “The governor’s duty is to present the revenue, and our duty is to work with it, and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Gideon, his classmates and all other public-school students will be off a fifth day before returning to more than 700 classrooms statewide, and one Ohio County sixth-grader is pleased with that fact.
“I am happy that we are going back because it will give me a chance to get caught up on my work,” he said. “And it’s OK that we lost our spring break because I think that’s better than adding on to the end of the year and taking away from our summer vacation.”
(Photos by Gabe Wells, Ohio County Schools)
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