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Proposal would replace regents

Chancellor Adam Herbert says local boards at the universities will add red tape and spark more turf wars.

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders today are expected to endorse the biggest overhaul of the state's university system in three decades, abolishing the Board of Regents and replacing it with local boards at each state school.

Beginning in 2003, the governor would appoint each board of trustees, who would choose presidents. The presidents would report to a chancellor, who would answer to a "mega-board" of education that oversees schools from kindergarten through college.

Senate President Toni Jennings, House Speaker John Thrasher, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan and Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher have scheduled a news conference today to announce the plans.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, and Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, are sponsoring the bills in each chamber.

Some differences exist between the House and Senate versions of the proposal, "but I think the speaker and the Senate president are in agreement on this issue," said Katie Baur, a spokeswoman for Thrasher.

The Board of Regents, composed of 14 members including the education commissioner, was established in 1965 and sets policy for Florida's 10 public universities.

University system Chancellor Adam Herbert, who was selected by the regents, has joined community college and public school leaders to oppose the changes. Herbert has said the addition of individual boards at the universities will add red tape and spark further turf wars between schools.

Like the regents, the new trustees would not earn salaries.

Gov. Jeb Bush, an ally of Herbert, has yet to take a side. But Brogan, Bush's chief lobbyist in the Legislature, is scheduled to attend the news conference in support of the mega-board plan.

The proposed overhaul is one of several recent attempts by Bush or the Republican-controlled Legislature to change the state's education system. Earlier this year, Bush and the state Cabinet approved his "One Florida" plan to eliminate affirmative action in university admissions and replace it with a system of minority recruitment and outreach. Closer to the Tampa Bay area, state Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole, wants to create four state universities, including a Suncoast University in St. Petersburg.

Attempts to abolish the Board of Regents and replace it with local boards are not new.

In 1971, 1979 and 1996, efforts to alter or replace the Board of Regents failed to pass the Legislature. In 1980, former Gov. Bob Graham vetoed a bill to establish local boards.

On Monday, Steven Uhlfelder, a regent since 1994, wondered if local boards of trustees could look beyond their own needs to accommodate the entire state.

"There's always been friction between the Legislature and the (Board of Regents). There is no perfect governance model. But I think the model they are proposing would be more imperfect than the one we have," said Uhlfelder, a former regents chairman.

Currently, the public schools, community colleges and state universities operate independently and receive separate funding from the Legislature. All three are overseen by the governor and state Cabinet, which sits as the state Board of Education.

The state's 28 community colleges have boards of trustees, appointed by the governor. The governor also appoints the Board of Regents and State Board of Community Colleges. The mega-board plan would eliminate both.

Instead, a director or chancellor for each division -- public schools, community colleges, universities and "non-traditional" schools -- would report to a single education commissioner appointed by the mega-board.

The proposals were sparked by a voter-approved 1998 amendment to the state Constitution. The amendment eliminates the elected education commissioner and authorizes the governor to appoint a new state education board.

Gallagher appointed a 37-member commission of lawmakers, education leaders and business people to define what that new board should look like. A majority of the commission recommended the mega-board design in February.

Proponents say the mega-board and the commissioner it hires would streamline the state education system and improve the governor's accountability for changes. Herbert and others have said the commissioner's job would be too large for one person.


-- Times staff writer Barry Klein and researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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