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News Clips 02/26/2013
Florida Polytechnic won't seek extra $25 million in state funding
Source: Tampa Tribune, 02/26/13
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By Jerome R. Stockfisch
Trustees of Florida Polytechnic University have reversed course and now say they will not ask the Legislature for another $25 million to get the new school up and running.
Members of Florida Poly's board of trustees met Monday and reviewed more detailed information about the school's proposed academic program. With members more comfortable about the school's financial situation, they directed chief operating officer Ava Parker to disregard the board's earlier vote directing her to seek the $25 million from the state.
"We have more data about how much things are going to cost," Parker said. "This board has always been very careful to make sure it had the money it needed to build the academic program for the university."
The controversial move to seek more state money came at a January retreat and was pounced on by opponents of the formation of the state's 12th public university. Last week, the state university system's Board of Governors summoned Rob Gidel, chairman of Florida Poly's board of trustees, to its March meeting in Tallahassee to explain "perceived funding shortfalls."
A bill creating Florida Poly was passed late in last year's legislative session, pushed by Republican Sen. JD Alexander of Lake Wales, the powerful appropriations chairman. The bill went straight to the Senate floor without committee hearings.
Florida Polytechnic was on a track toward a more gradual independence from the University of South Florida, which had been overseeing USF Polytechnic. Alexander, who was term-limited out of the Senate after the session, made the spinoff immediate.
Alexander and other supporters argued that starting up the independent school would not cost any more than had already been set aside for the university as run by USF.
But Florida Poly officials were weighing a different number than originally envisioned. The Legislature had allocated $109 million for the new campus and its signature Innovation, Science and Technology building off Interstate 4 and the Polk Parkway.
The $109 million figure, said Parker, the chief operating officer, represented simply the cost of opening the building to students — not related infrastructure such as a utility plant, roads, parking and landscaping.
Early planners decided those costs could be put off or done in phases. But the new Florida Poly board of trustees wanted to have a completed campus in place when students arrive in fall 2014, which made the startup cost $134 million.
As part of the legislation creating Florida Poly, the school was granted exceptions to tight financial controls over state money. Florida Poly would be able to shift unspent operating funds toward construction costs, for example. Those operating funds, along with state construction funding and other legislative allocations, were expected to be enough to help cover the full tab of the new campus.
But directors were reluctant to spend the operating funds on construction when they were so unsure of the costs to run its academic program. After the board's Strategic Planning Committee provided more details to trustees, they decided to call off the additional funding request, Parker said.
The move came on a vote during a joint meeting of the board of trustees' operations and finance and audit committees.