Budget cuts turn up the heat on USF administrators

Class sizes will increase and temperatures may rise this semester as University officials look to save money in preparation for what could be the largest budgetary crisis USF has ever faced.

With a 4 percent cut in the base budget already announced and a potential 10 percent cut on the way, the Florida Board of Governors – which governs the State University System – has already announced statewide freezes in hiring and freshman enrollment.

But this, according to officials, is not enough.

Across the state, agencies are buckling down as Florida faces a newly estimated $1 billion tax shortfall this year.

Previous estimates had the state receiving more than $400 million more in basic funds this year. However, according to Gov. Charlie Crist’s chief economist, Christian Weiss, a faltering housing market, lagging personal income and higher gas prices combined to lower the original, February estimate.

The State Legislature has scheduled a special session in September to address a new property tax structure and the budget, and Crist has warned all state agencies that they could see up to a 10 percent cut in their operating budget.

This means that school will be in session at all 11 state universities before administrators know what their budgets will look like.

At USF, administrators have already started planning to make cuts.

Their efforts began in early July when the Office of the Provost began to solicit ideas for making University operations more efficient and cost effective, and were renewed in early August with the formation of the Budget Priorities Taskforce headed by Vice Provost, Dwayne Smith.

This taskforce, whose members were selected jointly by the Faculty Senate and Office of the Provost, will be staffed with representatives of the faculty, administration and student body, according to Smith.

It will submit its findings by December 1, in time to effect the Spring 2008 semester.

As for this semester, Vice Provost Ralph Wilcox said students shouldn’t notice major changes.

With the budget still up in the air, the largest changes going into the semester will be larger class sizes and slightly warmer classes, he said.

According to Wilcox, USF is in a slightly better position than some of the other state universities, as it has recently established a new strategic plan and become more selective in its freshman acceptance rates.

“At least we know where we are going,” he said.

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