Monday, September 25, 2023

The FAU Coronavirus Response Plan, How to Allocate Pandemic Relief Funds, and More

Though Florida Atlantic University has made no decision about whether students will return to campus when the new year begins in late August, President John Kelly recently delivered some good news.

FAU “will finish the year in the black,” Kelly told the Board of Governors during this month’s meeting. Like classes at FAU since mid-March, that meeting took place virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions.

FAU received $22.5 million from the CARES Act, the federal stimulus bill, for the budget year that ends June 30. FAU also remains a commuter-heavy school and thus is less dependent than on-campus universities on income from room and board. Most dorm students got partial refunds for the spring semester.

Kelly also told the governors, who set policy for the state university system, that FAU raised almost $24 million through March and expects donations of about $12 million from April through June. He called that total, given the economic shock, “pretty incredible.” The trend line for faculty receiving grants is up.

Classes remain online through the summer session at FAU, which ends Aug. 7. And then?

An FAU spokesman said, “We’re working on a gated plan that requires certain criteria to be met as we move along opening phases.”

Those criteria, the spokesman said, will align with federal and state guidelines. Both might be tricky. The Trump administration ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rewrite its guidelines after the president found them too restrictive. States thus are making decisions on their own, with some governors ignoring earlier CDC recommendations.

As for Gov. DeSantis, his task force did not place universities or schools in one of the three reopening phases. Palm Beach County just entered Phase 1. The report said only that universities should “monitor the re-opening phases.” But the report also said, “Plans should be developed to resume on-campus learning, full-time, for the 2020-2021 school year.”

The Board of Governors is scheduled to meet only once – on June 23 — before the new academic year. It is uncertain whether the decision on reopening will fall to each university or to the board. “The fine points of this,” the FAU spokesman said, “are to be determined.”

If you’re a football fan and thinking that games might proceed if non-athletes don’t return, think again. There will be no on-campus events if students aren’t there.

In California, the middle tier of the higher education system – more like Palm Beach State College – announced this week that most classes would remain online for the fall semester. The chancellor cited predictions by health experts that the state will see a second wave of virus cases.

A vaccine won’t be available by the fall. Dr. Anthony Fauci, however, said sufficient testing might in place by then to detect new cases and to contact trace.

Lynn University is private, so President Kevin Ross and the trustees will decide whether to reopen. A spokeswoman said, “We will work within the boundaries of local government and guidelines from health authorities.”

She added,  “We are optimistic that we will be able to welcome students to campus for fall, but should the situation change, we are also planning for multiple scenarios, including flexible semester schedules.”

Lynn got about $1 million from the CARES Act. That money went to students based on financial need. The university got roughly another $1 million in what the spokeswoman called “emergency relief funds to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the pandemic.” She said that Lynn lost “significant summer revenue” from the closing.

As for the shift to distance learning, Lynn students already had iPads through a program with Apple. The spokeswoman said that Lynn received a “record amount of deposits” for the fall semester after National College Decision Day on May 1.

“The path forward,” the spokeswoman said, “will take creativity and patience as the situation continues to evolve.” She added, “Lynn’s small size and adaptability work in our favor as we prepare to resume on-campus classes, housing and student services, and we are looking forward to delivering our new students the innovative and personalized learning experience that makes Lynn special.”

The County Commission and the CARES Act

Palm Beach County Commission

The Palm Beach County Commission will meet Friday to discuss how to spend $250 million from the CARES Act and another $11 million from reserves that also will go toward relief from virus restrictions.

Of that money, $40 million will go toward assistance with mortgage, rent and utility payments. Two $35 million allocations are for virus testing and related expenses and for food distribution. The county will use another $35 million for its added costs from the virus.

At $60 million, the biggest chunk is for help to businesses. Those with 25 or fewer employees can get $10 million, with the rest for larger businesses.

The existence of that fund is one reason – though not the only one – that Boca Raton City Council members have hesitated to allocate $500,000 toward business relief. During Monday’s workshop meeting, the council agreed that the plan would provide $5,000 loans to the first 100 companies that applied and met the criteria.

There likely will be more discussion at Tuesday’s workshop. Approval may turn on how the county decides to hand out that $60 million.

Rodgers keeps stirring the pot

Whatever Boca Raton does, one can expect a rush of businesses seeking some of that $60 million. Council members will want city businesses to get their share, based on whatever criteria the county sets.

With that in mind, it’s probably a bad idea to needlessly antagonize the county commission. Yet after the commission on May 8 approved the reopening of beaches but made the effective date May 18, Boca Raton Councilman Jeremy Rodgers posted this on social media:

“Did you know that Palm Beach County is the ONLY county in all of Florida with Beach in its name? The county voted Friday to EXTEND the MANDATORY BEACH CLOSURES through MAY 18th.

“At least until May 18th, we may want to consider calling our county something else. Palm County just doesn’t have the same ring to it. If you have better names, please suggest them below!”

Commissioners, though, delayed reopening for a good reason: They were hoping that Broward County also would open its beaches and thus reduce the chance of Broward residents flooding into Palm Beach County.

Indeed, the city council collectively agrees with Ahnell that Boca Raton should open its beaches cautiously. So one wonders what Rodgers was trying to accomplish other than to stir a fuss on social media.

Town Center Mall reopens

town center mall

Town Center Mall reopened Wednesday, under Phase 1 rules that limit retailers to 25 percent occupancy.

Boca Raton’s most high-profile retailer said it has established a “COVID-19 Exposure Control Policy. According to a news release, all tenants “are expected to adhere to the same rigorous policies.”

Among them:

  • Extra sanitization and disinfecting in the food court and bathrooms and on escalators, stairs, directories, trash bins and door knobs.
  • Giving out masks and sanitizing wipes and taking people’s temperature at mall entrances. Hand sanitizers also will be placed throughout the property. Mall officials ask shoppers to stay home if they have had COVID-19 symptoms within the last 72 hours. Employees will undergo health screenings.
  • “Promotion and enforcement of social distancing practices, including occupancy limitations, furniture and restroom spacing, closure of play areas and strollers, as well as coordinated traffic flow with traffic signage and distance markers.”

Simon Property Group, which owns Town Center, had said Monday that the company hopes to reopen half of its roughly 200 malls this week. Town Center just got a $40 million makeover. In addition to reopening, Town Center will host food banks and take other actions to help people whom the virus restrictions have harmed.

Best Places to Work

Boca Raton-based Modernizing Medicine has made Inc. Magazine’s 2020 list of Best Places To Work.

The electronic medical records company is a decade old and has more than 800 employees. Employees from roughly 3,000 companies entered the competition by taking part in a survey that rated their workplaces based on what the magazine said were “trust, management effectiveness, perks, and confidence in the future.

Almost 400 companies made the list. Modernizing Medicine was in the large employer category. The other Palm Beach County firm to be ranked was Delray Beach-based Launch Potato, an advertising and marketing firm.

Another big donation for Boca Regional

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has received a $1 million donation toward its Keeping The Promise campaign from Sun Capital Partners Foundation and the company’s founders, Rodger Krouse and Marc Leder.

Sun Capital is a private investment firm based in Boca Raton. Krouse and Leder are co-CEOs. Among the company’s holdings are the Friendly’s, Johnny Rockets and Smokey Bones restaurant chains.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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