“You don’t count your money when you’re sitting at the table ...”
Kenny Rogers’ wisdom rings especially true for higher-education officials at area public schools, who just endured months of suspense over how much funding their institutions would walk away with following the state Legislature’s 2017 session.
Leaders from the State College of Florida, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and New College of Florida watched their fates rise and fall with the horse trading and haggling of the 2017 legislative session. For some, the time in Tallahassee was a boon — for others a boondoggle.
Now that the dealing’s done, there’s time enough for counting.
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Undisputed winner: New College of Florida.
Could have been worse: State College of Florida.
Undisputed loser: University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
New College walks away with millions in new funding to expand the campus and grow enrollment. The State College of Florida — which stood to lose the most at the beginning of the legislative session — endured a cut, but counted its blessings that things weren’t as bad as they could have been. And USFSM was singled out with a governor veto that eliminated more than a quarter of its annual funding.
Here is a closer look at how each school fared:
New College of Florida
Budget bottom line:
▪ Recurring funds: $7.5 million more in recurring funds;
▪ One-time funds: $1.8 million in new non-recurring funding to outfit a new science building;
▪ Enrollment: 861.
The story: New College is the clear winner among the area’s three schools. The Sarasota school of roughly 850 students received $7.5 million in new annual funding, with $5.4 million of that directed toward the first phase of the school’s growth plan.
“We’re thrilled that the Legislature and the governor approved the funding to allow for our growth plan that will allow New College to offer its educational experience to more students,” school spokesman Dave Gulliver said.
Gulliver said the outcome was the result of several years of effort by university President Donal O’Shea.
“O’Shea said in his inaugural speech that New College needed to grow,” Gulliver said.
The school’s growth plan is focused on getting to roughly 1,100 students within the next five years. Gulliver said once schools get to be about that size they develop a critical mass, and both graduation rates and retention rates begin to increase.
The $1.8 million in non-recurring funding will go toward equipping the school’s new Heiser Natural Sciences Complex, a 34,000-square-foot academic building housing labs, a lecture hall and a research greenhouse.
While New College escaped the drama surrounding USFSM and SCF during the session, the school is still not clear on whether it can have all of the $7.5 million in additional funding, since $2.1 million was linked to directions within Senate Bill 374, which Gov. Rick Scott vetoed. The money remains in New College’s budget, and school officials are awaiting word from Tallahassee on whether they can count on the funds.
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota
Budget bottom line:
▪ Recurring funds: Roughly $900,000 cut from annual budget;
▪ One-time funds: Roughly $1.3 million increase in non-recurring operational support;
▪ Enrollment: 27,000 annually at campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice, and via online classes.
The story: State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld began the session wondering if she would have to cut the school’s nursing program, based on a House bill aimed at restoring State College reserve funds to 5 percent. SCF stood to lose $4.4 million.
Legislators ended up adopting a Senate higher education bill, which reduced funding for state colleges by $24.7 million, reclassified the state colleges as “community colleges” and would have limited SCF’s ability to offer baccalaureate degrees.
SCF currently offers eight four-year baccalaureate programs in programs they say meet immediate job demand in the area.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it was intended to prevent wasteful duplication of efforts between colleges and universities.
“We don’t want a situation where community colleges are trying to be universities,” Galvano told the Herald in March.
Although the Senate bill was mostly bad news for SCF, Galvano and Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, pushed through a $1.6 million line item in additional operational support funding for the school.
The Senate’s higher education bill attracted far less attention than its K12 counterpart, HB 7069, which sparked protests and drew the condemnation of school superintendents across the state. So Scott’s decision to veto the higher education bill on Wednesday came as a pleasant surprise to SCF officials, who wanted to be able to expand their baccalaureate offerings.
Although SCF is walking away with less annual funding, Brian Thomas, special assistant to Probstfled, said the big story of this year’s legislative session for SCF is what didn’t happen. The school feared massive cuts and new regulations but emerged relatively unscathed — for now.
“The thing to remember on all this is these were the priorities of the Senate president (Joe Negron), and he will be Senate president next year,” Thomas said. “We fully expect he will continue to pursue things like this.”
University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
Budget bottom line:
▪ Recurring funds: $3.3 million cut from recurring funding;
▪ One-time funds: $1.3 million in new non-recurring funding for programs of strategic importance;
▪ Enrollment: 2,079.
The story: The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee emerges from the legislative session licking wounds inflicted by the governor’s pen.
Scott eliminated 28 percent of the school’s recurring base budget with a June 2 veto of $3.3 million in programs at USFSM. Mote Marine Laboratory and PAInT — an education program that integrates the arts into teaching — were cut by $3 million and $300,000 respectively.
“There is no doubt that these cuts will have a serious impact on our ability to deliver these high-quality programs and partnerships to our community,” regional chancellor Terry Osborn said.
Mote is tied directly with the school’s biology program, which has more than doubled in size since Mote and USFSM began their partnership and is considered a program of strategic emphasis by the State University System’s Board of Governors.
Laurey T. Stryker, the former regional chancellor of USFSM who now manages the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast, said the cut to USFSM’s Mote program is “baffling.” The baffling nature of the cut was underscored by $1.3 million in one-time funding to fund programs of strategic emphasis — such as biology.
“Since STEM is such a strong goal of the governor, I think it was a shock,” Stryker said.
Stryker said the veto is particularly crushing because it was in recurring funds — money universities count on from year to year. Osborn said the school would be continuing its partnership with Mote despite the cuts.
In an ironic twist, after Scott vetoed PAInT’s funding, he signed Senate Bill 256 on Wednesday, which named PAInT the state’s official resource for arts-integrated instruction.