Proposed bills alter charter plans
Although the proposed chartered universities legislation has yet to be debated in committee or on the General Assembly floor, it has already undergone significant changes since its original proposal by the University, William & Mary and Virginia Tech during 2004.
Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg, and Del. Vince Callahan, R-Fairfax, introduced identical bills, HB 2866 and SB 1327, Friday reflecting many of the proposed changes, which include a three-tier system designed to allow any state college or university to participate with varying degrees of autonomy.
With a month to go until the General Assembly adjourns, however, many details remain to be worked out and much of the bill could be changed.
The bill was written to meet last Friday's deadline for submitting bills, according to Danita Bowman, Norment's legislative aide.
"It's still a work in progress," she said. "It's a compromise or composite bill."
University spokesperson Carol Wood said the University felt "very positive" about the bill's changes.
"It's going to achieve the goals we set out at the beginning," Wood said. "We went into it knowing that there were would be negotiations, that there would be give and take on certain pieces of it."
Originally, chartered universities would be reclassified as political subdivisions of Virginia, but as of now they will remain state agencies. Due to exceptions, however, chartered universities would retain many of the original items they had sought, including flexibility over areas such as procurement, capital projects and personnel. The universities also would be able to set their own tuition and fee rates.
In another important change, the bill adds a list of state goals and expectations and offers participating universities incentives if they meet the goals. Although the legislature would reserve the ability to withdraw the chartered status, Wood said the discussion of goals was positive and expressed confidence in the University's ability to meet the goals.
"We believe anything the state sets out [as a goal], we will be able to achieve," Wood said.
Many of the changes address concerns that have been raised over the bill. For example, classified staff will remain part of the Virginia Retirement System, the chartered universities will offer full credit for Virginia community college graduates with associate degrees, and participating colleges will guarantee tuition levels will not bar access.
"There were a lot of accountability measures written into the legislation," Wood said.
Finally, all of Virginia's public colleges and universities have the opportunity to participate, although at one of three different tiers. The three original proponents and possibly other colleges will participate at the highest tier, which grants the most autonomy and shifts the most responsibility from the state to the schools' Boards of Visitors, according to Wood.
"I've heard that there are some other universities interested in the third level," she said.
According to Wood, President John T. Casteen, III, Executive Vice President Leonard Sandridge and Vice President for Management and Budget Collette Sheehy will all be in Richmond to participate in discussions over the legislation at various times during the next month.