Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

SPC, preparing to approve its budget, uses a more transparent process this year

St. Petersburg College is slated to approve its annual budget next week. And this time around, the college has initiated a more transparent budget process.

Last year, the Times reported that none of the college trustees saw a complete budget before they voted to approve it. It also took the college nearly two months to provide a line-item budget to the Times.

This year, budget staff publicly presented budget highlights in April. And each trustee got a copy of the proposed budget about two weeks before the board's May meeting, where the budget was reviewed again.

The full 2012-13 budget was also made available online.

College president Bill Law, who took charge of SPC two years ago, said he saw last year's scrutiny as constructive criticism.

"We were ahead of the curve this year," Law said. "The board has all of the information. Even before the last board meeting, they had the budget books. Every line item is available to them."

Law said the key focus of the proposed $145 million budget is student success.

Despite the college's best efforts, more than one in four students fail to successfully complete their courses, and more than seven out of 10 of SPC's full-time, first time in college students don't graduate in five years, Law said in a presentation at May's trustee meeting.

Over the next year, the college plans to phase in a number of programs to support students, including tools to help them plan their course of study, efforts to expand on-campus tutoring, initiatives to improve orientation and career advisement, and technology to alert advisers when students are struggling.

The budget has been realigned, Law said, "so we can help students in a more proactive way than we did in the past."

More than $980,000 previously set aside for mid-level management and back-office jobs will be shifted to tutors, advisers and other positions with direct student contact, Law said.

The college also plans to spend about $391,000 for technology aimed at enhancing productivity and supporting the student-focused initiatives.

And $819,000 is allocated for technology infrastructure improvements, including expansion of the college's wireless Internet network. Now, just about 20 percent of the college's area provides wireless access, according to Doug Duncan, SPC's senior vice president of administrative/business services and information technology.

The proposed budget also includes a 5 percent increase in tuition and other fees. If the increase is approved, associate degree-seeking students from Florida will pay $106.20 per credit hour, including capital improvement fees. In-state bachelor's degree-seeking students will pay $116.70 per credit hour.

That means lower-division students taking an eight credit hour load would pay about $53 more than last year. And upper-division students enrolled in the same number of hours would pay $58 more.

The college also plans to spend an additional $335,000 to expand the dual enrollment program, which gives high school students the opportunity to earn credits toward a high school diploma and a college degree at the same time.

Also in the pipeline next year are several major construction projects, including the Midtown Education Center, Clearwater Library, Seminole Library and Learning Center, and the Bay Pines campus. Next year's tally for the projects totals about $25.7 million.

The board was expected to vote on the budget in May, but had to hold off because college leaders weren't sure if three of the four current trustees were officially trustees.

It all boiled down to a paperwork problem. Trustees Timothy North and Robert Fine were appointed in September. Deveron Gibbons was reappointed then, too. But the state Senate failed to confirm their appointments.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed them in April. But then, state officials asked the trustees to refile forms they had already filed last year. And they weren't able to complete that process in time for the May meeting.

Law said he's confident the matter will be straightened out in time for next week's meeting.

The budget, which goes into effect July 1, must be submitted to the Florida Department of Education by the end of June.

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