FAU among schools still sweating size of budget cutby John Kennedy | March 1st, 2012
House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to cut $300 million from universities this year — which lawmakers say can be eased if schools tap rich reserves they’re sitting on.
But Florida Atlantic University is among several schools warily watching how the final deal is structured. Many also have questioned Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander’s characterization that Florida’s 11 public universities have more than $800 million in reserves.
FAU President M.J. Saunders described the Senate’s initial plan to cut $400 million as “disastrous.” It would have sliced $47 million from the Boca Raton-based university, costing it about one-third of its operating budget.
Under the smaller reduction, FAU is looking at losing between $23.1 million and $27.2 million, officials said. But the school’s cushion for softening this cut isn’t as large as lawmakers claimed. FAU’s purported $66 million reserve is actually closer to $16 million, when a range of spending commitments and already planned reductions are deducted, official said.
Meanwhile, budget writers have agreed to keep talk of university tuition increases out of the state’s roughly $70 billion budget. Colleges are now in line for a 5 percent tuition hike, under an agreement between House and Senate conferees. But Gov. Rick Scott has said he doesn’t want tuition increases this year.
No matter what lawmakers recommend, Florida universities can still seek as much as 15 percent tuition hikes from the State University System’s Board of Governors. Scott appoints members of the board. But he has no apparent ability to block board approval of a tuition boost.