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February 28, 2005

Debate over future of VSDB continues

From: Augusta Free Press, VA - Feb 28, 2005

Eye on Virginia

Chris Graham

It looks like the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind will be in a new home in two or three years - though Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, isn't about to give up the fight to keep the school in Staunton just yet.

"As far as I'm concerned, there is not a suitable location for VSDB outside the Staunton area," Hanger told The Augusta Free Press on Monday.

"I would prefer that we look at the existing location in Staunton, of course. But the budget amendment that was agreed to doesn't include those restrictions," Hanger said.

According to language in an amendment to the 2004-2006 state budget that was approved by the Virginia General Assembly on Sunday, the VSDB campuses in Staunton and Hampton are to be consolidated into one school "upon completion of a new facility at a site as determined by the State Board of Education with assistance from the Department of General Services."

The State Board of Education and Department of General Services would be on the hook for determining a location for the new school by July 31 of the current year, according to the amendment, which is still awaiting the approval of Gov. Mark Warner.

Hanger said Monday that he is hopeful that state lawmakers can work out a compromise among themselves toward defining a location before Warner weighs in on the matter.

"I hope that is something that we can possibly work out over the course of the next two to three weeks in a manner where maybe we can present a proposal to the governor that he can include in his recommendations to the General Assembly during the reconvene session. If that isn't something that we can do, we'll just have to work with the State Board of Education and hope that they steer things in the right direction," Hanger said.

Plan B might end up being necessary.

"The governor is always open to input from legislators, in particular legislators who represent regions that will be most affected by a particular piece of legislation. That said, this debate has been ongoing for some time now, and it's getting to the point where a new round of discussions on this issue might end up being counterproductive," said Ellen Qualls, Warner's press secretary.

"The difficulty of crafting a solution to this matter is not just in trying to balance the needs of the host communities. It's also about trying to take into consideration the needs of the students and also their families who want to be able to have their children as geographically close to them as possible. This is a thorny political issue because it does involve so many different constituencies," Qualls told the AFP on Monday.

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Chris Graham is the co-publisher of The Augusta Free Press.

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