TALLAHASSEE — At a time when Florida's universities are facing millions of dollars in budget cuts, Florida State University has hired a prominent state senator to coordinate a new reading program in her home county.
Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, is being paid $120,000 a year to work on a program she helped create and fund.
Lynn also happens to be chairwoman of the Senate's Higher Education Appropriations Committee, with great influence over university budgets.
"It's just a coincidence," said FSU President T.K. Wetherell, a former House speaker and appropriations chairman who is widely known for his wily political dealings with the Legislature.
"I see no conflict considering we have no money this year," Lynn said when asked whether the new job was appropriate for a lawmaker with so much influence over university budgets.
The job makes Lynn a "triple dipper." She draws a $3,124-a-month retirement check that she earned as a career educator in Volusia County, her $31,000-a-year legislative salary and $120,000 a year from FSU.
Lynn, 78, has a doctorate in education from the University of Florida and was a teacher, reading and language arts supervisor and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Volusia County before retiring in 1989.
Lynn is the second senator hired by one of the state's major universities this year, the latest example of part-time jobs given to lawmakers by public institutions with budgets that depend on the Legislature.
The University of Florida hired Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, chairman of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee. He is paid $75,000 a year as a lecturer, a salary more in line with those paid to tenured professors.
Haridopolos, 38, has a master's degree, the minimum requirement for lecturers at UF, and is working on his doctorate. His hiring has caused an uproar among some UF faculty members who say budget cuts are forcing the university to hire fewer instructors and deal with larger class sizes.
Both senators were hired without an open search for other candidates for the jobs, and both are allowed time off during legislative sessions.
Lynn started work at FSU in late September 2007. She said she is taking unpaid leave time during March and April to tend to legislative duties, but will still handle some job responsibilities on weekends and during free time.
She said the job is likely to be a one-year assignment just to help FSU get a reading research outreach center established at Daytona Beach Community College.
Lynn helped create the reading program when she was chairwoman of the Senate's elementary and secondary education committee in 2006. Then last year, as chair of the higher ed appropriations committee, she pushed to budget $1-million for the FSU center.
Wetherell says the university needed someone who could help get access to schools in Volusia County, and he knew of Lynn's experience.
"Plus, she is from Daytona and I know her. I take care of my Daytona people," Wetherell joked. He is a Daytona Beach native and worked at the Daytona Beach college while he served in the Legislature from 1980 to 1992.
"It certainly gives the appearance of a problem," said Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause, the citizens group.
"The Legislature has very weak conflict of interest standards. To the general public or anyone looking at it from an objective point of view, it doesn't look good. It looks like her position helped her get this job."
Lynn's $120,000 compares with mean salaries of $100,431 for full professors at FSU, $70,651 for associate professors and $66,393 for assistant professors.
"Evelyn Lynn and Mike Haridopolos are just the tip of the iceberg of legislative meddling," said Sherman Dorn, president of the faculty union at the University of South Florida.
"They are using their positions as legislators to get jobs they are not qualified for, and it's inappropriate."
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler contributed to this report.
Lucy Morgan can be reached
or (850) 224-7263.