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Budget cuts may spare community colleges

Florida's 11 universities fear they will suffer more if legislators go easy on the two-year schools.

By BARRY KLEIN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001


OCALA -- Florida's new seamless system of education showed signs of strain Tuesday after the state Board of Education agreed that Florida's community colleges should be spared the pain of budget cuts.

The board directed Education Secretary Jim Horne to ask lawmakers to go easy on the state's two-year schools in next week's special legislative session.

University representatives were not pleased. They don't think their institutions should have to absorb a disproportionate share of the cuts.

"I hope that's not the case," said Carl Blackwell, interim chancellor of the state Division of Colleges and Universities.

"We hope our state leaders consider carefully what disproportionate cuts would do to our efforts to establish a ... seamless system of education," said Jack Wheat, special assistant to University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft.

All areas of Florida's education system were cut during last month's special session, when lawmakers made their first stab at trying to erase a $1.3-billion budget shortfall.

Florida's 11 universities gave up $83-million. The state's public schools lost $115-million. The 28 community colleges lost only $37-million, but they have seen the greatest enrollment growth this year and can least afford the reductions, said board member Charles Garcia, who proposed giving them additional protection.

He told board members the cuts are particularly painful for the 160,000 minorities enrolled in the community college system.

"Why cripple a system that is doing so much?" asked Garcia, the chief executive of a Boca Raton investment company.

Before the vote, Horne said he could not guarantee the community colleges could be held harmless, either from the effects of last month's cuts or the ones to come.

"The (community colleges) will be called on to help us educate our way out of this recession," said Horne, who helped craft the novel, K-20 education system that he and other Republican leaders have promised will reduce competition between the system's different sectors.

After the meeting, Horne issued a statement clearly intended to reassure university officials that their schools will be fairly treated.

"The motion passed today by the Florida Board of Education regarding the upcoming special session ... was intended to recognize the tremendous student enrollment growth at Florida's community colleges," Horne wrote.

"At no time did the Florida Board of Education endorse the idea of cutting the budget of any one delivery system in an effort to spare another," he said. "We recognize that everyone must share in the sacrifice."

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