Senator Creigh Deeds’ Highland Visit – Pt. 2

State Senator Creigh Deeds visited Highland County last Thursday, to meet with local leaders, and discuss the state of the Commonwealth, as well as hear area  concerns. After introductory comments, the topic turned to education.

School superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott asked the Senator about proposed increases of 2% for state employees and teachers. The Senator pointed out that this would not be funded entirely by the state, and that budget process still had many steps before it was completed and rarified.

“”That’s just the state share – because the employees are split between the county and the state, the state only pays its’ share of 2%. So, I wouldn’t bank much on the budget until probably sometime in early March. There’s still a lot of horse-trading to go on.

“Budgets have to be balanced – we cant spend what we don’t take in. It’s based on projections of what we’re going to take in. The revenue forecast gets re-forecast every couple of months, so we might be adjusted up – we might have more money to spend, or it might be adjusted down, you have less money to spend. Budgeting is the biggest job we have. This year, for the first time ever, I think the budget will exceed $100 billion over the biennium, over two years.”

School teacher Joyce Ralston raised the issue of increasing health premiums.

“It seems like for the past several years, we’ve been faced with increases in our health insurance. I was just wondering, has the state ever considered having one health plan for all state employees?”

“That idea has been bounced around for a number of years, and there have been bills introduced, and I think it makes a lot of sense – the larger the pool, the smaller the premiums. But the concern, I think, is that if you bring localities in, localities have a lot of older employees, and the older employees aren’t as healthy as younger ones.

“It’s frustrating to me, because you can beat your chest and talk about a pay increase, it’s a great thing, but then, you’re taking that pay increase back when the cost of insurance, which isn’t controlled by the General Assembly, or isn’t controlled by the budget, when the cost of insurance goes up.

Dr. Schott brought up two more topics, charter schools and the always controversial composite index. In the fall, the voters of Virginia will decide on a referendum which would allow the state board of education to give permission for charter schools, bypassing local school boards. The Senator said he would not support it, because funding for those schools would still come from individual localities, or the state funding intended for those localities. This brought up composite funding, which he pointed out was unpopular everywhere, not just Highland.

“Everybody moans about it – equally fair, equally unfair. Fairfax County’s going to moan, Highland County’s going to be upset, everybody’s upset. People in Rockbridge County don’t understand why we can’t fix the composite index for Rockbridge County. Everybody I know is unhappy with it.

“Here’s the thing – anything you do with the composite index, it affects somebody else. Education funding is like a tube of toothpaste – anyplace yousqueeze, it’s got to come from somewhere, and go somewhere else. I’ve tried and tried to come up with formulas that would benefit Highland County, and for the sake of me, I can’t find one that won’t take the money from somebody else, and frankly, hurt some of the localities that are around you.

“The bottom line is, when it comes to education funding, we need to find more money – you need to put more money in the tube before we talk about changing the formula.”

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this story, which includes discussion of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and a state park in Highland.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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