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.”
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Democrat VanValkenburg kicks off Gen. Assembly campaign


Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

That teacher, Schuyler VanValkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he earns the nomination, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has been unopposed for 10 years.

VanValkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in history, is running for office for the first time. Although he has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run. > Read more.

Construction begins on JA Finance Park at Libbie Mill


School and business leaders from around the region, including (pictured, from left) Simon Hodges of Dominion Resources, Daphne Swanso(president of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia) and Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas, gathered at Libbie Mill Library Feb. 23 for the Junior Achievement Finance Park construction kickoff. > Read more.

Assembly poised to OK state budget on Friday


Finishing a day early, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a budget Wednesday that includes employee pay raises and more money for K-12 education and mental health.

The negotiators presented their budget to their fellow lawmakers in time for the required 48-hour review, which could be completed by Friday night with a chance to adjourn their 2017 session before Saturday’s target date.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate praised the spending plan’s conservative fiscal policies. > Read more.

Section of Charles City Road to close beginning Feb. 26


A section of Charles City Road, from Lewis Road to South Airport Drive, will be closed beginning Sunday, Feb. 26 as part of a project to widen and improve the road.

The Henrico County Department of Public Works expects the closure to last for a few weeks.

Westbound traffic on Charles City will be detoured around the work zone by way of South Airport, Seven Hills Boulevard and Laburnum Avenue. > Read more.

ACLU urges McAuliffe to veto anti-immigration bills


Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday to veto Republican-backed legislation banning local governments in Virginia from designating themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. They also said they plan to fight federal and state policies that they believe violate immigrants’ rights.

At a news conference, representatives of the ACLU of Virginia and other civil rights organizations criticized anti-immigrant measures passed by the General Assembly. They also condemned the recent spike in deportation raids on immigrant communities in Virginia by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL will perform at 2 p.m. at the Henrico Theatre. This group of young, diverse, high-energy dancers combines simple movement and rhythmic patterning into exciting and intricate choreography. Admission is free. For details, call 652-1460. Full text

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