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Florida Senate Votes to Split Polytechnic From USF

BILL KACZOR, Associated Press
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Florida Senate  (Photo credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Florida Senate (Photo credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The University of South Florida’s Lakeland branch would be split off as a new stand-alone school by a bill that cleared the Florida Senate on Thursday.

The legislation would accelerate the process of creating Florida Polytechnic University that was set in motion by the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s current 11 public universities. The board took that action at the behest of Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander.

The Lake Wales Republican has been leading efforts to create what would be the state’s 12th university against resistance from South Florida. That resistance, though, has faded since the board agreed to the split.

The board directed South Florida to oversee the transition, a process expected to take several years, but the bill (SB 1994) would take that responsibility away from the Tampa school and give it to a new board of trustees for Florida Polytechnic.

“I have to tell you I have no confidence in the University of South Florida’s leadership to execute the will of the Board of Governors in this effort,” Alexander told the Senate.

He said South Florida has opposed the split because it doesn’t want the competition. He also accused the university’s leadership of giving short shrift to the Lakeland branch including exiling disfavored faculty members there as punishment.

The bill passed 35-4 and now will go to the House.

The opponents included Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Cross Creek Republican who chairs the chamber’s Higher Education Committee. Lawmakers shouldn’t junk the benchmarks established by the Board of Governors including a requirement that the new school obtain accreditation before finalizing creation of the new university, Oelrich said.

Another opponent, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said a 12th university isn’t needed, would cost too much and lacks public support.

“They’re not yelling and screaming outside this chamber” for the new school, Fasano said.

Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Greg Evers, R-Baker, also voted against the bill.

It was passed after Alexander quelled opposition from South Florida boosters by agreeing to restore some of the spending cuts his committee made in the university’s budget.

While all of the schools would see cuts under the proposed $70.7 billion budget bill the Senate also passed Thursday, South Florida’s reductions would have been disproportionately larger if the chamber hadn’t agreed to restore about $40 million.

Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, led efforts to restore the cuts. He also told the chamber South Florida President Judy Genshaft, who once opposed the split, told him she supported passage of the Polytechnic bill.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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