Florida House Speaker Clarifies Remarks on Florida Poly

Had been quoted in article as saying the new school is a ‘disaster'


Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 11:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 at 3:19 a.m.

LAKELAND | Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said Wednesday his intentions are not for the Legislature to turn its back on Florida Polytechnic University but to support its efforts for a successful outcome.

Facts

CORRECTION

The original version of this article incorrectly said some statements by state House Speaker Will Weatherford were made on Thursday. He made the comments on Wednesday. This version has been corrected.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, spoke with The Tampa Tribune's editorial board earlier this week and was quoted in an article Wednesday as saying the new school is a "disaster."

He told The Ledger on Wednesday, however, that the remark was targeted at the school's recent plan to ask for more money. The board of trustees for the new state university talked about asking for $25 million more to help start the Lakeland school, but they later decided against it. A formal vote is slated for next month.

That request was his focus, Weatherford said.

"The context was this: I was asked about the $25 million request, and I said I think it's a disaster because I believe the whole deal was they wouldn't be coming back and asking for money. That was a disaster," he said.

Legislation was passed last year to create the new college and was championed by former Sen. J.D. Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican. Alexander said then that money was on hand to build the inaugural, $98 million building, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, and get the school running.

Florida Poly also received the annual budget previously allocated to the University of South Florida Polytechnic. That school was dissolved when Florida Poly was created.

Legislation allowed for Florida Poly's leaders to use operational money to cover construction costs if needed, but the board had hoped it wouldn't have to and considered asking for the extra $25 million.

On Monday, Florida Poly Chief Operating Officer Ava Parker said she would recommend against that, saying that, after further consideration, it seemed "more prudent" to not request the money.

Weatherford said Wednesday he wants what's best for the university.

"I‘m not saying we should turn our back on the Poly at all," he said. "I am saying now that we have it, how do we make sure that site, faculty and institution can really be a gem for Central Florida long term?

Parker said the university's board is on track to a successful start-up.

"I think this board is really coming together to build an institution that's going to be very beneficial to the state and beyond," she said. She pointed out that the university just obtained its full board of trustees in November. She was brought on to serve as interim COO in late December.

"When the board comes together and finalizes it and can show they have the plan and implementation strategy, it will be something folks will really rally around, and support."

In his comments to the Tribune, Weatherford had suggested Florida Poly might want to try to partner with a well-known existing university, such as MIT. He said Wednesday he was making the point that people should think out of the box.

"I'm not saying they should deviate from the direction they are going now," he said. "I am saying let's make sure all options are on the table. I want it to be successful. I'm saying let's embrace it."

The direction the university takes is up to its board and the State University System Board of Governors, he said. "I'm not going to micromanage it. I don't think it's our job."

He pointed to Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, who is House Appropriations chairman, and said lawmakers are invested in the school.

"If we're going to write a $30 million check or so every year, we want to make sure all options are considered for its success," Weatherford said.

BOG spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said the board will follow the law in regard to its interest in the polytechnic.

"At this point, the Board of Governors is focused on meeting its statutory obligations for the evolution of Florida Polytechnic," she said. "However, we are approaching this with an open mind to different solutions should circumstances necessitate."

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