With less projected funds from the state legislature, representatives of Florida’s 11 universities bitterly approved a budget list of construction projects for each school at a limit of $287 million at the Board of Governors meeting Thursday at USF’s Alumni Center.
It was the first decision made this year to request funding from the state to improve university buildings.
“These numbers are really frightening to us,” said Sheila McDevitt, vice chair of the Florida BOG. “It’s been very difficult for staff to come up with a list to meet our needs. The number is just too low.”
The BOG will have two more opportunities to make revisions to the list before the March 2007 legislative session. After that, the list will have to be approved by the Governor’s office, then the Florida Legislature.
According to Ken Ogletree, a BOG staff member responsible for organizing the State University System’s construction budget, about $50 million had to be cut out of the budget request for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
“We had to cut funding for infrastructure by 50 percent across the board,” Ogletree said.
Funding for infrastructure goes to pay for renovation projects such as roof replacement and plumbing work at each school.
Though the total budget request for each university totals more than $318 million, a few million over the projected limit, Vice President for USF’s government relations Jeff Muir said the legislature may introduce funding from other revenue later on.
“Our list includes three times more (projects) than we know we’re going to have revenue for,” Muir said. “The problem is, everybody’s hungry, but the pie’s not big enough.”
To assess each list, the BOG applies a set of more than 30 different criteria to determine which projects are most important.
According to Ogletree, the BOG places more emphasis on constructing classrooms, infrastructure improvements and completing construction projects already in progress.
“We rate each project according to that criteria until we get down to that number,” Ogletree said. “What makes it a challenge for USF to receive funding is its four branch campuses and how the University’s Board of Trustees decides to rate those needs. When you have four campuses and you have to divide funding for projects between those before a Board of Governor’s meeting, it creates a big problem. If the (BOT) can’t rank them, then how do we rank them?”
Under the budget request, USF would receive about $40 million for upkeep of its existing structures and plans for new buildings.
When compared to other universities, USF ranks third in the amount of funds requested from the state. The University of Florida requested $61 million, and Florida State University requested $46 million.
Besides funding for infrastructure, USF’s three top priorities are $14.8 million for the construction of a Visual and Performing Arts Center, $1.7 million for Phase I planning of the Lakeland branch campus and $7.6 million for an Interdisciplinary Science Teaching and Research Facility.
Last year, the legislature approved a total of about $513 million for all of Florida’s universities, and USF received about $61 million.
TUITION INCREASE PROPOSAL
In addition to approving construction budget requests, the BOG agreed to table a decision to approve a proposed 7 percent increase for undergraduate tuition until its next meeting at the University of West Florida on Nov. 16.
According to Frank Harrison, USF student body president and BOG member, the BOG decided to hear more input from student leaders before approving the tuition increase.
“We want to create a more reasonable approach when it comes to tuition increases and policy,” Harrison said. “We’re going to look at other models of schools in the southeast and look at the overall cost to determine what percentage comes from students and what percentage comes from the state to develop a frame for raising tuition.”
Tuition for the 2006-2007 academic year increased 5 percent from the previous year.
Harrison also said he would like to make students aware of the reason for the tuition increases and just what exactly students would be paying for.
“We need to make sure that when we raise tuition, students are getting what they deserve for that raise,” Harrison said.
“Students should demand to know where that money is going to go and how it’s going to help them.”