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Board of Education tests limits of control

Having given universities more autonomy this year, the state wants a say in presidents' salaries.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2001

Having given universities more autonomy this year, the state wants a say in presidents' salaries.

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Board of Education wants to create new rules to govern how university presidents' salaries are set -- a decision that has set off debate about how serious the board is about giving universities more autonomy.

The plan for new rules comes a week after the Florida International University Board of Trustees gave its president a sizable salary boost, raising his pay from $202,000 to $285,000. But state Education Secretary Jim Horne said he was contemplating new rules even before the FIU raise made news.

"We started this process even before the (FIU president) Mitch Maidique issue," said Horne. He raised the issue at the end of a Board of Education meeting Friday even though it was not on the agenda. "This is not meant to be an attack on FIU."

The pay issue comes at a time when lawmakers and taxpayers are sensitive to the issue of executive pay, especially in light of the budget cuts that are affecting classrooms and teacher salaries across the state.

"The timing is terrible," said Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole. Sullivan said he was "flabbergasted" to learn of Maidique's salary increase. "When you see something like that, it's enough to make you want to take control."

The discussion of university presidents' salaries comes on the heels of a contentious debate in Pinellas County regarding a new contract for Superintendent Howard Hinesley. The superintendent got a modest salary increase (from $159,509 to $162,509), but the School Board also agreed to give him a permanent life insurance policy that will cost up to $140,000 in premiums and $60,000 in taxes, with the costs stretched out over four years.

Since the Pinellas School Board agreed to the contract terms Tuesday, district offices have gotten dozens of calls and e-mails objecting.

"That's pretty much ongoing," Hinesley said of the push from Tallahassee to limit administrative salaries. "There's no question that when you have budget difficulties, the timing brings that up."

Horne said he wants to explore the possibility of having the Board of Education set guidelines for superintendents' salaries as well. Florida law provides salary ranges (based on a school district's student population) for elected superintendents, but appointed superintendents' salaries are set by school boards.

"I'd have to see what kind of authority we have there," Horne said.

The prospect of having the Board of Education set guidelines for university presidents provides a real test for the board's commitment to a concept they call "devolution" -- the shifting of power to local districts and boards of trustees. It echoes a theme that has run through Florida education policy for years: Lawmakers give educators more autonomy one year, then tighten the reins the next year.

At least one member of the Florida Board of Education made it clear that he doesn't want to wrest too much control away from the new boards of trustees that were just created and appointed this year.

"We don't want to become the Board of Regents now (where) we want to tell them what they can and can't do," said board member Charles Garcia, referring to the now-defunct board that used to oversee Florida's university system. "This whole concept of devolution, if they can self-regulate, (is) better than us promulgating rules."

Horne said he simply wants to "send a signal that we have a system of education, not a loose confederation of organizations working independently of each other."

The chairman of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees said he would be disappointed if the Board of Education took a controlling role in setting guidelines.

"One power I know we have is the ability to hire a president," said USF trustees chairman Dick Beard. "If we don't have the ability to pay them, how do we hire them? We have to be competitive. I would hope they would give us that power."

Gov. Jeb Bush said he would leave it to local boards to set salaries and take the heat for their decisions.

"I honestly believe that the school boards and the universities ought to have this authority to do it," Bush said. "And I'm confident that they recognize the environment in which they're operating."

-- Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Kelly Ryan Gilmer contributed to this story.

Rising salaries

HOWARD HINESLEY, PINELLAS SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT: The Pinellas County School Board agreed to buy Hinesley a permanent life insurance policy that will cost up to $140,000 in premiums plus $60,000 in taxes. His salary will rise from $159,509 to $162,509. The county will increase contributions to his tax-sheltered annuity, from $9,500 to $15,000.

MITCH MAIDIQUE, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: The Miami-based school said it is raising his pay from $202,000 a year to $285,000, making him the highest-paid president in Florida's university system.

JIM HORNE, STATE EDUCATION SECRETARY: In July, the Florida Board of Education decided to pay Horne $225,000 and to establish performance measures that could raise his pay to $400,000 annually. The next day, it changed course. Horne won't be eligible for the incentive pay until 2004. He will continue to receive the $225,000 base salary.

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