Sunday, February 18, 2018
Education

USF on budget, PECO: 'Trying to avoid catastrophe'

They didn't exactly sugarcoat it:

Continual state budget cuts and a draining of funding for new campus construction has left the University of South Florida trying to "minimize" disaster. That was the message from University of South Florida chief operating officer John Long at a Board of Trustees finance workgroup meeting Thursday morning.

"That's really where we are at now," Long said. "Trying to avoid catastrophe."

In the past few years, USF and other state universities have seen their state funding shrink by close to 50 percent — $300 million cut from the universities this year alone.

Meanwhile, a tax on utilities that pays for the Public Educational Capital Outlay fund, used to build new educational buildings on campus, has shriveled. In the past, USF has set aside reserve funds to help pay for at least basic maintenance on its existing buildings, but this year legislators said they expected universities to use those reserves to cover state cuts.

USF president Judy Genshaft reminded trustees that the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, has just set up a task force to look at potential new solutions for paying for campus facilities.

"That issue continues to grow," said board chairman John Ramil, of the reserves. "Now we're not getting it on both sides."

With little choice, the trustee group approved a continuing operating budget that's more than $40 million less than last year. Also going away is almost $30 million previously delegated to the USF Polytechnic campus in Lakeland, which is embarking on breaking off into the state's 12th university.

The budget still needs approval from the full USF Board of Trustees before it's submitted to the Board of Governors in August.

The full board must also still decide how much of a tuition hike to ask for from state higher education leaders. Once they know how much extra tuition they'll have to work with, they'll develop a more complete picture of how to deal with that budget cut.

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