The state General Assembly session convenes this Jan. 13, but some of our delegates were in Charlottesville Friday. At a panel at UVA, local legislators discussed what they look forward to in two–thousand five's session.
They touched on issues such as transportation, gay marriage and healthcare, but the main focus Friday was on the proposal for UVA, Virginia Tech, and William and Mary to become chartered schools.
As the charter proposal nears a final draft, concerns from both university employees and legislators were being raised.
One main concern of employees is accountability. With charter status, the university gets less money from the government in return for more autonomy.
Therefore, instead of the legislators making decisions, it's the university's board of visitors and legislators don't know who the board is accountable to.
Another concern is the possibility of a higher tuition.
"We have a very grave concern about access from the poorest people in the commonwealth," said one woman.
Employees are also worried about losing benefits and pay increases as they are no longer state employees.
"Currently as state employees there are certain rights and protections, as I understand it, under charter legislation, we will cease to be state employees and those rights and insurances will no longer apply to us," the engineer said.
Some legislators say it's because of the state dropping the ball; universities have to switch to a charter status.
"The reason we are even considering the charter responsibility is that the state is not funding higher education as it should,” said Delegate Mitch Van Yahres.
UVA President John Casteen says there's a reason why the state hasn't been pulling its own weight. It has an economic responsibility to help the Southside get back on its feet.
"Twenty years ago when I was in state government," remembers Casteen, "We were always promise that Virginia was bullet proof, because of coal, tobacco, textiles, furniture and shipbuilding, five of those individuals have gone down the tubes."
Delegates kept reiterating that they couldn't say anything substantial at the moment since the charter was still in rough draft form. The subcommittee of the legislature dealing with the charter is meeting this Tuesday, Jan. 12, to decide on the final draft, which will then go before the legislature.