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Universities predict suffering if budgets are cut

But Gov. Bush calls the outcry from university presidents premature because the state budgetis still unformed.

Published May 9, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - As part of an unprecedented lobbying campaign, several of Florida's university presidents came here Thursday to warn against proposed budget cuts they say will have dire consequences for their schools.

"It's not something we are just making up to scare people," said Charles Young, president of the University of Florida in Gainesville. "We will suffer some real problems next year."

Young was one of six presidents who stopped at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg to rally public support against the cuts.

The Legislature is considering slicing $84-million from university budgets next year and providing no money for enrollment growth. It is the only arm of public education that would receive a funding decrease.

Gov. Jeb Bush said the presidents are being unduly alarmist. During an interview Thursday in Tallahassee, he said they will be "very pleased" when they see the final budget numbers.

"They are going around the state talking about a budget that isn't going to happen," Bush said.

The presidents preferred to offer their own budget proposal.

They said too much money is being earmarked for class size reduction in K-12 next year. They want some of that money shifted to the universities, including $60-million to pay for growth in student enrollment.

"Hitting the universities is exactly the wrong place to go," said USF president Judy Genshaft. She was part of the lobbying group that included Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell, Florida International University president Mitch Maidique and University of Central Florida president John Hitt.

UF is looking at about $37-million in cuts. USF is facing a $26-million reduction, while both UCF and FIU would lose $15-million each. The schools also will receive no money to pay for tens of thousands of new students expected to enroll in the fall.

For the 260,000 students already at Florida's 11 universities, the cuts could mean fewer teachers and degrees, larger classes and more competition to get into schools because of enrollment caps.

Some cuts already have started.

FSU will freeze freshman class admissions this fall. Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers has suspended faculty searches. USF's Health Sciences Center and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville have ordered hiring freezes.

The presidents stressed that higher education accounts for 16 percent of the state's education budget but will sustain 35 percent of the cuts.

"We really do have to speak out," Hitt said. "We can and must do better."

Talks between the House and Senate broke down last week without passage of a state budget. Legislators will return to Tallahassee on Monday to try again.

The presidents flew to St. Petersburg on an eight-seat Cessna Citation owned by UF's athletic association. They also visited Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa, and will fly to Tallahassee next week.

- Times staff writer Julie Hauserman contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 9, 2003, 02:06:09]

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