Florida’s conservative state House speaker is making an example out of Broward College, targeting the school with a proposed $381,000 budget cut because of a contract that allows the outgoing president to take a paid sabbatical after stepping down.
The House higher education appropriations subcommittee released its initial budget proposal for 2018-19 on Tuesday. Lawmakers included the $381,000 operating aid reduction to Broward College in addition to across-the-board cuts to state colleges and universities. No other school would suffer such a specific cut under the proposal.
The committee released the budget document following a report from the Sun Sentinel on Broward College’s plan to pay President David Armstrong his $381,000 annual salary for a year after he steps down, during which he would have only advisory duties.
A spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran confirmed in an e-mail that the proposed cut was directly related to the plan for Armstrong to continue earning his salary after he's no longer president.
“The speaker believes arrangements like the one at Broward College should not be the practice in public institutions,” Fred Piccolo, Corcoran’s communications director, wrote in the email.
Armstrong did not immediately return a phone call and text message requesting comment. His spokeswoman, Lesli Franco, said he was unavailable to comment because he was attending a meeting of the college’s board of trustees.
Armstrong joined the presidents of Miami Dade College and Palm Beach State College in protesting cuts targeting the schools in the current budget during a recent Miami Herald editorial board meeting. He said then the mainly poor and minority students attending South Florida community colleges are often “overlooked” by the Legislature.
During his speakership, Corcoran has repeatedly gone after local and state agencies for what he argues are misuses of public funds.
It’s not uncommon for leaders of colleges and universities to continue to receive some or all of their presidential salaries and other lucrative benefits after stepping down, sometimes into teaching positions.
The House’s overall budget proposal also includes $64 million in across-the-board cuts to colleges, as well as $216 million in cuts to universities. The committee’s chair, Rep. Larry Ahern, a Republican from the Tampa Bay area, said the cuts are intended to “entice” the schools to drain their reserve funding balances.
The House plans to propose an overall state budget of $85 billion. In order to fund House priorities, some cuts are needed in certain parts of the budget. Ahern said public higher education has been "overfunded" in recent years, so that’s where the chamber plans to concentrate some of its reductions.
The plan does include a $1 million appropriation for nursing health center clinics at Florida International University in Miami.
The budget proposal is preliminary. House committees are beginning to roll out their suggested budgets this week, after which the full House will vote on a comprehensive plan. The Senate will do the same. Then leaders of both chambers will negotiate a final budget deal that includes some of both of their priorities.
The legislative session is scheduled to end March 9.
CORRECTION: This article previously stated Armstrong would continue receiving his salary for a year after he retires. A spokeswoman for Broward College said Armstrong is not retiring until 2019. His yearlong sabbatical — during which he'll be paid his current $381,000 salary — will occur before he retires.