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Board of Governors negotiates USF/Florida Poly split

6:29 PM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla - Concerns over an expedited timeline for opening Florida's 12th university in Lakeland were evident during a Wednesday meeting of the Select Committee on Florida Polytechnic.

Meeting for the first time since Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 1994 and created the new STEM university, the members of the Board of Governors' Select Committee scrambled to address potential problems stemming from the new university's impending split from USF.

The new university, to be built in Eastern Lakeland, will split completely from USF on July 1.  President Judy Genshaft told the committee that the split, called a "divorce" by several legislators, was going smoothly.

But Chancellor Frank Brogan admitted to 10 News that the timetable - expedited by legislators, including Polk County's JD Alexander - has created new problems for the future university.  Alexander contended a complete split from USF would not slow down the university's progress.

Among the newly-discovered potential problems: not enough money to finish  construction of Florida Poly's main education building, no permission yet from developers who donated land to USF for the campus, and a lack of interested candidates for the university's new Board of Trustees.

While the Board of Governors (BOG) may get 40 applications for a Board of Trustees opening at one of its other universities, it has received just four so far at Florida Polytechnic.  Including Governor Scott's applicants for the six seats he gets to fill, there are 7 total applicants for 11 trustee positions.

Stressing their "national search for trustees," BOG staff asked 10 News to repeat their call for applications, due May 31.  Numerous applications are expected to come in at the last minute.

Applicants so far include:

  • Thomas Cloud, an Orlando attorney who represents the cities of Haines City, Fort Meade, and Polk City.  He is also a parter at influential law and lobbying firm Gray Robinson.
  • Don Overstreet, a retired air-traffic controller from Mulberry.
  • Bob Henne, a retired Polk C.C. professor from Lake Wales.
  • Dennis Nitschke, a business consultant from Lakeland.
  • Robert Scaringe, owner of an engineering firm in Brevard County.
  • Tim Bach, owner of a marketing/advertising agency from Apopka
  • Richard Hallion Jr, an historian with the Air Force from Okaloosa. 

Former State Sen. John Grant also indicated he would like to be considered for a Poly trustee post, even though his written application to the governor's office indicated he wanted a spot on the Enterprise Florida board, Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, or Fish & Wildlife Commission.

Committee Chair Mori Hosseini said if more qualified applications aren't received, the search could be extended.  But a Board of Trustees must be in place before a president can be named and, presumably, students can be recruited.

Because of the immense work ahead for Lakeland's new university, there's no telling when classes would start there.  Some committee members indicated 2014 might be the earliest possible since it currently has no students, no faculty, no campus, and no president yet. 

Previous USF Poly Coverage:
4/19/12 - Governor signs SB1994, creates Fla. Poly University
3/5/12 - USF deal struck, exclusive interview with Genshaft
2/28/12 - Genshaft told Poly accredidation will take 2-4 years
2/27/12 - Alexander actions have some asking why BOG exists
2/27/12 - USF students continue #SaveUSF campaign
2/22/12 -
JD Alexander: from USF cheerleader to USF critic
2/20/12 - College student warned of Alexander revenge
2/16/12 - Gov. Scott tells 10 News he opposes unfair cuts
2/15/12 - Budget cuts live, but ''divorce settlement'' brokered
2/14/12 - 10 News leading charge to #SaveUSF
2/14/12 - USF fears "devastating" 58% budget cuts
2/8/12 - JD Alexander pushes "backdoor" for Poly independence
12/20/11 - Genshaft dismisses USF-Poly chancellor
11/10/11 - BOG grants USF-Poly conditional independence
11/7/11 - USF-Poly spends thousands on Star Wars statues
11/3/11 - JD Alexander's bully pulpit

Other concerns about the new Florida Polytechnic include $100 million in campus construction moving forward on land that isn't yet legally available to Florida Polytechnic.  The developer who donated the land to USF Poly several years ago has not yet signed off on handing the land over to a new university.

USF representatives indicated they thought the issue would be resolved in upcoming months. 

But other problems were mentioned about the yet-to-be-developed campus.  USF and former USF Poly Chancellor Marshall Goodman had budgeted $99 million for construction, expecting to fundraise the final $13-$16 million needed for completion. However, fundraising efforts were essentially terminated when the "divorce" began nine months ago.

Right now, Florida Polytechnic doesn't appear to have enough money for technology or labs on its new technology-driven campus.

There is also a nearly $1 million deficit due to environmental testing that will need to be done on the campus.  The testing was expected to be completed by the state during construction of high-speed rail, but when Gov. Scott terminated the project, the work was never completed.

A great deal of time was also spent trying to figure out what parties would be financially responsible for many of the transition expenses.

Nuances included how USF would take care of $3,000 designer couches and store a $21,000 adult-sized slide before handing them over to the new university on July 1.  The purchases, made by Goodman, were heavily criticized during the meeting.  However, Goodman's name was not mentioned.

"We didn't cause this," said USF trustee Stephen Mitchell, "we're trying to solve this."

There was also concern and confusion over how USF would transfer all of its assets in Lakeland over to the new university when there is no board in place yet to accept the assets.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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