Plans to divide the jointly-run Florida A&M -Florida State University College of Engineering are on hold, for now. legislative budget officials dropped the idea during Sunday negotiations, opting instead to do a study on whether the split is feasible.
Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) raised the idea of splitting up the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering by steering millions of dollars to Florida State to start its own programs. Earlier in the month Thrasher said he’d look to what the presidents of FAMU and FSU had to say about it.
“I’m going to look to both the presidents their general counsels are meeting tomorrow to start outlining what they think will be a good program for both schools," Thrasher said. "And I’m going to be guided by that, and I think today is a start of a conversation we need to have in respect to these two institutions.”
FAMU has opposed the split, and FSU has endorsed it. The House was never keen on the idea—with Speaker Will Weatherford saying he’d rather defer to the state university systems oversight board, the Florida Board of Governors, to weigh in. Now, the Board will continue the conversation Thrasher has started, Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron said Sunday evening.
“The speaker had advocated for involving the board of governors in that decision so I think where we are moves us in that direction.”
Negron and his House counterpart, Republican Representative Seth McKeel of Lakeland, have agreed to fund a $500,000 study of options when it comes to what to do about the joint school. On the table are three options: keep the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering together, give the college to just one school, or divide the programs between FAMU and FSU. The issue has grown increasingly controversial and University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan McManus had even cast doubts on whether it would go forward.
“I have a feeling that, you know, it will be delayed. I will say one more thing. I believe there will be a lot of support for letting the board of governors weigh in before the legislature does it unilaterally," she said.
The money dollars bookmarked for FSU to begin construction on a future engineering school, are scrapped. The state budget put $10 million into building a new engineering program at Florida State. Thrasher secured another three-million for the effort. The extra dollars are gone, and the remaining $10 million will be diverted to other maintenance and construction projects at Florida State.
The deal came as both chambers negotiated deals on long-running water issues. The Senate gave up the FAMU-FSU split in exchange for more money for the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okecheobee water projects: both priorities of Negron, whose Southeast district was hit hard by damaging floods and polluted water runoff during the Summer. Still, even that comes with a cost—projects aimed at the Everglades have been dropped.
“In that area, as you know, there are a lot of folks who need large amounts of money in that area," said McKeel. "We certainly aren’t going to have enough money to make everyone happy in that area, so I think we’re just attempting to take a stab at moving those issues forward.”
The FAMU-FSU study is due May 2015.
Negron and McKeel have been able to wrap up most of the outstanding budget issues putting them on track to deliver a finalized joint spending proposal to the House and Senate by Tuesday. The legislature is set to adjourn Friday—with the final vote set to be the 2014-2015 state spending plan.