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Broward College President: State 'Screwed' South Florida In Budget

The president of Fort Lauderdale's 62,000-student two-year college has something to say about Florida State's leadership: “Sadly, South Florida gets screwed by Tallahassee.”

Adriano Salucci Tom Olliff
Bisnow Director Adriano Salucci, Broward College President David Armstrong and Senior Vice President of Administrative Services Tom Olliff

That was the declaration by Broward College President David Armstrong at Bisnow's Future of Fort Lauderdale event on June 15. Broward is among Florida's 28 state colleges that are seeing their budgets chopped by $25M, according to the Miami Herald. Armstrong said that funnels down to $2.3M less for Broward College.

“Our tax dollars that we pay go to Tallahassee, and ... I don't think we get 80% on return back to South Florida,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong blamed the problem partly on the fact that most of the state legislators from Broward and Miami-Dade counties are in the minority party in Florida's government. At the same time, the state was proposing to increase the budget of Florida's 12 public universities by more than $200M, according to the Miami Herald.

“The powerful legislators, who are in central Florida and the Panhandle and other places, take more money to their communities than we're able to get back here," Armstrong said. "So we're a donor community. And that has impact on your public operations; your K-12 system, which is the biggest operation, the biggest employer, the most important part of our community. And they just got screwed in Tallahassee.”

201 Las Olas Blvd
Broward College's Downtown Fort Lauderdale campus at the former Willis Holcombe Center

Budget cuts are only one of the challenges Armstrong said the college has been facing. Another is the sheer costs of updating its facilities spread out over three campuses.

Broward College Senior Vice President of Administration Tom Olliff said the college has some $86M in deferred maintenance costs. Broward shares in Florida's Public Education Capital Outlay Fund, which helps finance construction and maintenance at state-owned schools. But part of that budget is derived from taxes on land-line telephone utilities, a stream of revenue that has taken a hit in recent years as more Floridians use cellphones exclusively.

Broward College President: State 'Screwed' South Florida In Budget
Rendering of 201 Las Olas Boulevard

That has Broward turning to the private sector to raise capital. Most recently, the Broward College District board of trustees approved a deal in which it entered into a land lease with Stiles Corp. to allow the developer to tear down the former Willis Holcombe Center in Downtown Fort Lauderdale to redevelop the site as a 400K SF mixed-use project that is slated to include office, residential and retail.

The proceeds from the deal, at 201 East Olas Blvd., will be used by the college for deferred maintenance, Armstrong said.

“Basically this will be the first commercial office building in downtown Fort Lauderdale in 10 years,” Armstrong said.

While Broward College looks to partner with local businesses to help students, Armstrong said those jobs need to have a “sustainable” salary for them of at least $15/hour. 

“We have some businesses that come to us and want us to start a program that would start students in a job that is not sustainable,” he said. “And I look them in the eye and say, 'When you get your starting wages up to a place that is sustainable, then we''ll start it. Otherwise, we're not doing it.'”