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State behind in matching college gifts

The state didn't keep its promise. So Herbert Gimelstob didn't keep his.

Gimelstob, a real estate executive from South Florida, took back his $750,000 gift to Florida Atlantic University after the Legislature failed to match his donation this year.

Now the future of the new $2-million Judaic studies center in Boca Raton is in doubt.

"To me a deal is a deal," said Gimelstob, 63, the head of the FAU Foundation, which raises money for the school. "They all want better education, but they don't want to pay for it. They should put more money in education or they're going to have imbeciles in this state."

The state owes its 11 public universities $100-million under a law that requires Florida to match private donations above a certain amount. The backlog in matches for about 500 donations in some cases is holding up scholarships, research programs and construction projects.

And that doesn't include millions more owed to the state's 28 community colleges.

The situation was bad before this year's legislative session. Bad has gotten worse.

"We're pulling our hair out," said Paul Robell, University of Florida vice president for development. "How can the state not realize the benefit of this?"

Donors are starting to demand contracts that guarantee gifts will be returned if the state doesn't pay its share. Others vow not to give more until the state pays for pending gifts. Some are pledging money but won't hand over the check until the state does.

Minnesota doctor William McGuire has given two gifts to UF totaling more than $7-million. He required a guarantee that the state would match one of them _ $4.2-million to house one of the world's largest collections of butterflies and moths _ by a certain deadline.

"We couldn't do without it," McGuire said of the state match. "Like anywhere, we would prefer to leverage any contribution."

At FAU, Gimelstob and two other donors took back a total of $1-million for the Judaic center because the state did not match their gifts. State educators say it might be the first time that has happened, and they worry it sets a bad precedent.

"We all fear that," said University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft.

University officials are scrambling to keep crucial private money rolling in as they face less state money and skyrocketing student enrollment. But gifts are harder to come by because of the struggling economy and the growth of the state university system.

For example, USF expects donations for the fiscal year that ended June 30 to dip to $28-million, down from $43.3-million a year ago.

Since the matching program began in 1979, the state has given universities $365-million for scholarships, professorships and other programs. Universities lobbied hard for matching gift money during this year's legislative session, making it a top priority. They got $41.6-million, but their operating budgets were cut by almost the same amount.

"It's a real positive to say I'm going to leverage my gift. That's why I don't understand what the state is doing," said Allen Lastinger, a UF donor and former president of Barnett Banks. "It's important for the Legislature to understand this is a very, very cost effective program."

But the matching gift program became one of the many issues that divided the House and Senate as they negotiated a state budget during their contentious legislative sessions.

"The Senate remains committed to the program," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. "It's the most productive incentive-based program we have."

The Senate suggested giving the universities money to cover much of the backlog but didn't identify a source. The House recommended no money.

"In all, this is a very sound year for education in the state of Florida," said Rep. David Simmons, R-Longwood, who heads the House Education Appropriations Committee.

University officials this year proposed to cap state matches at $3-million a year on any project, not to exceed $15-million over five years, if the state allowed them to borrow enough money to pay for the backlog. But the state never signed off on the loan.

Some of the more than 500 projects waiting for matches are an asthma research professorship at USF, a new science and engineering building at the University of North Florida, and scholarships at the Florida International University College of Health and Urban Affairs.

The minimum gift that qualifies for a match is $100,000, with the state contributing 50 percent, or $50,000. The bigger the gift, the bigger the match, with 100 percent matching on gifts of more than $2-million.

There are two matching gift programs, and the $41.6-million the state gave schools this year can go toward either:

One program needs $105-million in matches, with projects dating back to 1998 for scholarships, faculty chairs and research. Interest generated from investing donors' money is used to pay for programs and can be used while schools wait for a match.

The other needs $35-million in matches for construction projects. This program uses all the money, not just the interest, but doesn't allow private donations to be used until after the state money comes in.

Florida State University has recently adopted a policy that requires employees to tell potential donors it could take years for the state to match their donation.

"Universities really need to disclose what the facts are to donors," said Jeff Robison, FSU foundation president. "It used to not be an issue for us, but now it comes up more and more."

_ Times computer assisted reporting specialist Constance Humburg contributed to this report.

Not enough matching money

This year, the Legislature gave its 11 public universities $41.6-million to match donations. The money can be used to erase backlogs in two programs. One provides endowments for scholarships, professorships and research, and the other pays for construction projects.

2003 Owed for

School state match endowment

University of Florida $12,498,959 $42,728,499

Florida State University $6,205,814 $17,923,004

University of South Florida $6,675,392 $14,771,717

Florida International University $3,859,480 $8,865,199

Florida Atlantic University $2,978,152 $10,197,848

University of Central Florida $4,585,101 $4,221,840

New College of Florida $223,613 $1,464,636

University of North Florida $1,550,324 $1,680,207

Florida A&M University $2,191,260 $1,725,365

Florida Gulf Coast University $720,346 $1,240,002

University of West Florida $143,091 $143,091

Total $41,631,532 $104,961,408

Owed for

School construction

University of Florida $14,461,155

Florida State University $5,196,100

University of South Florida $3,785,759

Florida International University $963,975

Florida Atlantic University $4,038,560

University of Central Florida $363,261

New College of Florida n/a

University of North Florida $699,270

Florida A&M University $1,549,057

Florida Gulf Coast University $4,200,855

University of West Florida n/a

Total $35,257,992

_ Source: Florida Department of Education