‘Blue Ribbon’ Considers Multiyear Budgets for State Universities

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Multiyear budgeting was one of the first ideas to pop up for discussion as Gov. Rick Scott’s panel on overhauling state colleges and universities began its work Wednesday.

Whether the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education Reform recommends that or any other proposals, though, will require unanimous consent, all seven members decided during a conference call.

“We’ve got consensus that consensus will be unanimous,” said chairman Dale Brill.

House Education Committee Chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said the panel’s recommendations would be stronger if spoken with a single voice.

“It forces us to crystalize the message,” said Joseph Caruncho, a private Medicare plan CEO from Miami and member of the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s 12 public universities.

University of North Florida President John Delaney suggested multiyear budgeting.

“It’s very hard to do any strategic planning with absolutely no idea if your budget is going up or down,” Delaney said.

He also noted the schools don’t set their own annual budgets but depend on the Legislature and partially the Board of Governors.

Lawmakers this year cut State University System funding by $300 million while Scott vetoed a bill that would have let Florida State University and the University of Florida raise tuition in excess of a 15 percent annual cap.

Scott created the panel through an executive order in early May, saying his goal is to make Florida’s colleges and universities more efficient, transparent and accountable.

Besides opposing higher tuition, Scott has complained that universities don’t sufficiently emphasize high-demand degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. He also has angered faculty members by putting their salaries on a website and floating ideas for radical changes in tenure.

The Republican governor appointed Brill, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation, to chair the panel. Four top GOP legislative leaders each named a member as did the chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Governors.

The task force, which plans to finalize its recommendations by the end of October, agreed to divide its work into three major subject areas: tuition, governance and accountability.

The Board of Governors has appointed its own study panels to examine various aspects of the State University System, and Brill said the task force intends to avoid duplicating their work.

Instead, it will catalog existing reports and recommendations from those panels and other source including the Legislature, he said.

Other task force members are Jeff Shuman, chief of human resources for Melbourne-based Harris Corp.; Frank Fuller, an aide to Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and a former Okaloosa County assistant school superintendent, and House Education Committee Vice Chairwoman Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake. Legislative leaders appointed Proctor, O’Toole, Shuman and Fuller. Delaney and Caruncho are Board of Governors appointees.