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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

UF students: cover budget cuts with reserves

 Florida legislators aren't the only ones who want universities to use reserve funds to cover this year's round of budget cuts -- which amount to $300 million across the state university system. 

A group of University of Florida students is appealing to state leaders to have UF do just that, in a strongly worded letter to Sen. Steve Oelrich of Gainesville, Senate budget chairman JD Alexander, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, Speaker of the House Dean Cannon and Speaker-designate Will Weatherford.

The students warn the legislators of "a dramatic deviation from your directives" on the part of UF and claim that the budget-cut plan UF trustees will consider this week focuses on "laying off staff, eliminating teaching positions and cutting important programs that compromise the very fabric of our education."

"Despite our best efforts, we cannot understand the University’s reasoning for refusing to spend down their vast reserve funds. The cuts they are introducing to existing programs damage the integrity of our institution and devalue our educational degrees. Such dramatic fiscal policies are being implemented without considering the opinions of the students," wrote the student group, which calls itself the Save UF Coalition.

They complained that students have had little input in the budget cut decisions and urged state leaders to intervene in advance of UF's Board of Trustees meeting coming later this week.

UF's budget cut proposals made headlines when they were first rolled out a couple months ago -- particularly one idea to merge two computer science programs. UF eventually softened on that idea, but it hasn't backed down from the notion that using only reserve funds to make up this year's budget shortfall is not practical. 

For the fifth year in a row, UF and other state universities are having to absorb multi-million dollar budget cuts. This year, state leaders asserted that the cuts were non-recurring. They expected universities to cover them with reserve or "carry-forward" funds they'd saved up over the years, likening those coffers as "rainy-day funds." 

But universities balk at that suggestion, noting that no previous years' cuts have ever been restored. As for reserves, they say that while externally uncommitted, the money is used for a number of things on campus that the state no longer pays for. That could include anything from building maintenance to hiring packages for new faculty, said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes

Sikes called the reserve funds "working funds" that used to keep the university running. She said UF would use a combination of reserve funding and campus budget cuts to cover its share of the $300 million being taken away from the university system this year. UF has to cut more than $38 million. 

"At the moment, UF is not confident that this year's reduction will return next year," she said. "In fact, we spent more than $12 million of what you call 'reserves' or working funds last year with the hope that they would return this year. And they did not return."

To the students' suggestion that they had been shut-out of budget cuts, Sikes said that students have been welcomed to speak at Faculty Senate meetings, that a group is anticipated to speak to the full Board of Trustees on Thursday and that they are additionally welcome to submit comments through the student affairs office, via a link on the UF home page.

In the coming weeks, UF's and the rest of the state universities' boards will be meeting to discuss budget cuts and their three-year work-plans, which they'll present to the Florida Board of Governors later in June

[Last modified: Monday, June 4, 2012 3:42pm]


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