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Higher ed advocates focus on retirement benefits


While higher education issues seem hidden behind state gun control and uranium mining discussions at the Capitol so far, professors from VCU and other schools are urging legislators to improve retirement benefits for public university and college employees.

Pushing for more funding for higher education, better faculty retirement options and lower tuition for in-state residents, three groups spearheaded the task of getting their voices heard last week.

Officials from the Faculty Senate of Virginia, the VCU Faculty Senate and the American Association of University Professors met at legislative offices Thursday morning. Their first order of business was to push for educators’ retirement benefits.

House Bill 486, sponsored by Delegate Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, aims to create better retirement incentives for public higher education employees.

The bill would allow such workers, who currently have optional retirement plans, to opt in to the Virginia Retirement System. Employees who wish to maintain an optional retirement plan, and were hired after July 2010, would be provided between 8.5 and 8.9 percent “creditable compensation” from the commonwealth. All other employees would be entitled to a rate of 10.4 percent creditable compensation from the state.

Creditable compensation constitutes all the salary and wages paid to a full-time, salaried higher education employee as a result of services performed. It also includes payments for compensatory time, severance pay or employer-provided payment for the purchase of service credit in the VRS.

The purpose of HB 486 is to give state employees in the higher education system the opportunity to purchase service credit in the VRS based on accumulated earnings and experience, even if those workers are covered under an optional retirement program.

“Many employees come in untenured, so they have a choice whether they want to participate in an optional retirement plan or the VRS, since optional retirement plans are portable and can be taken to other systems. But if you get here [Virginia] and you realize how great it is, then you might wish that you had signed in to the VRS,” said Robert Andrews, organizer of the 2013 Higher Education Advocacy Day.

“The bill makes it so down the road, once [employees] get tenured, they can make a one-time swap to buy equivalent amount of work time in the VRS,” said Andrews, a professor in the VCU School of Business and an officer in the VCU Faculty Senate.

“It’s certainly revenue neutral, and it’s really important for state employees to buy in to this established benefit plan.”

In addition to retirement benefits, education lobbyists are also looking to provide financial benefits to educators’ families.

Senate Bill 104, introduced by Democratic Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke, would reduce the tuition rate for children of Virginia higher education employees by 50 percent. Currently, state universities and colleges can decide individually whether to waive tuition for their employees’ children. SB 104 would ensure that all state institutions implement the reduction immediately.

“Growing up with a mother as a college professor, you really gain a perspective into how valuable higher education is,” said junior Alex Wells of George Mason University. “I think that being proactive in the House and Senate really shows that we’re committed to the long-term prosperity of prospective students and faculty in Virginia.”

Participants in Higher Education Advocacy Day also expressed a need for more state funding to make college tuition more affordable for future students. Members are seeking legislative action to filter more than $200 million for state tuition assistance, as well as more than $2 billion in employer-based financing towards the VRS program.

“We’re important in supporting higher education and maintaining credibility against voices on the other side who feel that they don’t have any responsibility to contribute to higher education,” Andrews said.

“If we don’t have competitive institutions that have the financial resources to provide quality faculty members, or opportunities for students to have more feasible access to college, then we inevitably suffer in attracting professional businesses to our state.”
Community

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Journey to mediocrity

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ fails to capitalize on tasty concept
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a curious little Romeo and Juliet of a film. A family, forced out of their native India, begins a trek across Europe.

The family’s sole mode of transportation sputters and dies in a sleepy little French town, but the town’s food culture is high, and that’s a perfect place for a family of restaurateurs to settle down. There’s only one problem – the family’s rustic “Maison Mumbai” is right across the street (a hundred feet away, if the title didn’t clue you in) from a prestigious French bistro with a Michelin star, run with an iron fist by the dreaded Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, pictured).

It’s here that a particular Romeo and Juliet story begins to develop, with Hassan (Manish Dayal) on the Indian side and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) on the French side. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy the final days of summer with comedian Guy Torry, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour or mystery writer Mary Miley Theobald at Twin Hickory Library. Another great way to welcome the beginning of fall is to check out the UR Spider Football season opener with man’s best friend. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

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