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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Poly future unclear, Weatherford says

21

March

So perhaps JD Alexander should be worried that his dream of a 12th university in Polk County will get dashed.

A day after the Florida Senate excised the $22 million for the yet-to-be-built Florida Polytechnic from its education budget, House Speaker Will Weatherford said he’s open to reevaluating whether it belongs in the state university system.

“We do  have the responsibility to make the best lemonade that we possibly can out of the situation and  hopefully turn that into a world-class institution,” Weatherford told reporters Thursday. “The Board of Governors (which oversees the university system) and the Board of Trustees should get creative about what that institution could be.”

Asked if that meant not turning it into the state’s 12th university, Weatherford replied: “Yes.”

He suggested it could team up with another existing state university, such as the University of Florida, or MIT or polytechnics out of state, in effect turning the school into a satellite campus for another university.

Florida Polytechnic came to be when Alexander, who was then a powerful Senate budget chairman, wanted to transform a Lakeland satellite campus for the University of South Florida, into a university. 

Alexander pushed for a university by arguing Polk County, and the inland part of the state where his family company owns thousand of acres of land that is now up for sale, deserved its own university. Almost single-handedly Alexander got the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to agree to approving millions for the school, including $22 million next year for its operations.

But it’s been a slow slog getting started for the school, which has yet to enroll its first student. Earlier this year, it requested an additional $25 million, but backed off the request when lawmakers and members of the Board of Governors expressed concern that they were making the request too soon.

The senate’s education appropriations chair, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he left the $22 million out of his proposed budget because the school’s officials didn’t respond to his request about how they were going to spend the money.

Weatherford said he’d be “shocked” if some money for Polytechnic isn’t in the budget.

“(Poly) hasn’t been the perfect situation under the perfect circumstances, but I also believe that we’re a $100 million into building a building, to just defund it is not the answer.”

What the answer is, however, Weatherford isn’t saying.

“I’m open to anything,” Weatherford said. “The door is open. All the options should be on the table, we should do whatever is best for Florida to get the best return on our investment.”

And that means Poly is back in play. Which can’t be good news for Alexander, who is no longer in office to protect his legacy project.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 7:45pm]

    

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