Senate Committee passes altered charter bill

A revised charter initiative bill unanimously passed through a Virginia State Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill, which now is called the "Restructured Higher Education Financial and Administrative Operations Act," passed 15-0 in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

The vote represents a significant step in the direction of implementing the charter proposal, said Kevin Hall, deputy press secretary for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

Hall said the committee's vote to pass the charter legislation gives the bill a "legislative vehicle" which will facilitate progress on the bill.

The bill will be debated on the Senate floor over the next few days. It also is considered under a parallel legislative process in the House of Delegates, University spokesperson Carol Wood said.

Besides the changed title, the bill has undergone significant modifications in recent weeks, including the addition of a three-tiered system of autonomy and a six-year financial and academic plan for each participating college. According to the University's Web site, one of these amendments guarantees that all public colleges and universities will remain state agencies.

Hall said Warner has been in close contact with the University and has held several town hall meetings across Virginia to discuss the specifics of the initiative. The governor hopes the legislation will give more freedom to public universities, Hall said.

"We have been in the middle of this discussion for many months now, and I think it's fair to say that we have successfully broadened the charter beyond its original concept," he said.

University Staff Union President Jan Cornell said the bill has continued to disappoint her.

"I'm still not convinced that it's good for students," Cornell said. "I think it's going to knock out a lot of working class kids. They're not going to be able to afford to come to U.Va."

Cornell also said the entire Human Resources section should be removed from the legislation.

Wood said she thought input from the community has improved the bill.

"The charter initiative has actually strengthened over the past several months," she said.

Warner, the General Assembly and the colleges involved in the proposal have been collaborating to facilitate the transition process, Wood said

"We have listened, and we continue to listen to employees," she said.

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