The idea to shut down the University of Central Florida – the state’s largest public university with more than 68,000 students — was floated during the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting by committee chair Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay). Fine’s comments were in response to the UCF’s use of nearly $38 million in operating funds for a building construction project, he was “working on a five or 10-year shutdown of the university.”
UCF’s former administration erred in spending operating funds on construction, which is restricted by state law — but there is more to this story and part of it lies with the continued underfunding of public education and construction funding not keeping up with need.
Public Education Capital Outlay funds (aka PECO) are dedicated to construction and maintenance projects for public schools. PECO is funded by taxes we pay on utilities including electricity, telecommunications and cable. Over the years as telecommunication tax collections has fallen along with the decrease in the number of land line phones, and other factors.
The bottom line is university and college administrators are faced with the dilemma of aging facilities and the lack of available construction funds while legislators continue to ignore the funding needs of our schools, colleges and universities.
Certainly, UCF officials did not adhere to the law and they will feel the repercussions of that decision. But they are not the only ones between a rock and a hard place in this funding quandary. The University of South Florida has admitted to misappropriating some operating funds for building and construction projects as well.
But none of this excuses Chair Fine’s reckless proposal to close the school which would disenfranchise the students and employees one of the largest universities in the country.