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BOT tries to work around the Legislature’s special session

An overall 12.5 percent increase is expected after the session.

As USF waits for the Florida Legislature to finalize budgets for state universities, the Board of Trustees approved a tuition increase last week.

In order to secure income for USF, chairman Dick Beard advised trustees at Thursday’s board meeting to approve a tuition increase in case the Legislature can not meet its May 27 deadline.

The Board may have to wait until the end of the Legislature’s special session before the House and Senate reach a consensus on the budget, which includes a 12.5-percent tuition increase proposal for state universities.

“We have to have enough income to cover cost,” Beard said.

But because the budget remains unsettled, the Board amended the maximum 12.5 percent increase proposal before approving it. The Board rewrote the statement to approve a tuition increase up to the amount the Legislature approves.

“Without a budget, we can’t agree on any of these numbers,” Beard said. “We can’t just say ‘I want to raise tuition.'”

But the approval is just temporary for the meantime, until a final budget is designated to state universities. The Board will vote on a tuition increase again by a conference call to approve a final recommendation from the Legislature.

“We’ll agree to these amounts, and adjust it later when we receive a budget from the Legislature,” Beard said.

The approval raised concerns with trustee Margarita Cancio, who suggested the Board keep low income families in mind with tuition proposals.

“A lot of families can’t afford this change,” Cancio said. “We need to figure out a way to get more scholarships for those in need. We need to start investing in the other side as we raise tuition.”

Student Body President Omar Khan said a 12.5 percent increase will affect all students, not just those with low income.

“We’re talking about a $200 increase, at least,” Khan said. “This is something we all need to think about.”

Though the Board’s vote is not finalized, Beard said it is a precaution for the university’s operation considering the Legislature’s timeline.

“I agree with what you’re saying, but unfortunately, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Beard said. “We need to make sure we have a way to continue operations if time gets in the way.”

By Grace Agostin, Associate Editor

The Board keeps last year’s budget in order to keep operations open at USF.

The Board of Trustees met to approve the fiscal year 2003-04 operating budget Thursday, however, they could only recycle last year’s budget due to the Florida Legislature’s special session.

Chairman Dick Beard said because the Legislature hasn’t set a definite budget, there could be no approval.

“We will approve a budget that is basically last year’s budget with a little bit of an increase without any the assumptions on what the Legislature is going to do,” Beard said. “We can go back later and adjust that. But until we know what the numbers are, we can not act.”

Beard said the university needed to restore the fiscal year 2002-03 budget so USF could continue its operations. The university will continue to follow last year’s budget until the end of the special session May 27.

Going into the special session May 12, university presidents expected a $100-million plus budget cut. However, with the efforts of six university presidents, who last week traversed the state warning of the dangers of a slashed budget, the cut to higher education may not be so large after all.

“We lobbied that higher education needed a fairness in the budget,” said USF President Judy Genshaft. “At that time, universities were slotted for a 35 percent cut when only 16 percent is the amount that higher education makes in the budget.”

Genshaft added that since the lobbying efforts, universities are optimistic that the budget has improved both in the House and the Senate.

“But we are not done and we are not there yet,” Genshaft said.

During the weekend, the Legislature intended to hold conference committees to compare and contrast the budget in both chambers, Genshaft said. She hopes have a budget by Friday.

“We are hoping and looking forward to the budget,” she said.

Genshaft said that statewide, the presidents are asking the Legislature to look favorably upon higher education, as well as three other things: to fund enrollment, have fair funding and match gift funding.

“We have sent a special message, but it is an important message as well,” Genshaft said.

As of Friday, university presidents were looking at about a $67-million cut from the House and about a $60-million cut from the Senate.

Once USF receives a more definite figure at the end of the special session, the Board will hold a special conference call meeting to discuss and approve the budget.

By Stefanie Green, News Editor