Monday, March 4, 2024

FAU reclaims some cash, a word or two about felines and let the rains begin

FAU in the money

Last week was a very good one for Florida Atlantic University in the world of higher education, which now resembles the world of law enforcement.

For two decades, police departments have relied more and more on the Compstat method of tracking and preventing crime. The system, which started in New York City, uses real-time metrics. Captains undergo interrogations about why, for example, auto theft is up in their precincts. Police administrators in cities large and small use the numbers to assess performance and devise responses to problems.

That’s how it is now for state university presidents in Florida when they appear before the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System: Meet the goals, or lose money; show improvement, or lose money. The 11 presidents see their university’s metrics with those of their counterparts.

At last week’s board meeting, FAU fared much better than it did a year ago, just three months after President John Kelly took over. Then, FAU lost $7 million for poor performance and got no additional money. Last week, FAU got back $3.5 million—the rest of that $7 million—and got $11.4 million in new money. The $3.5 million comes automatically; it was for last year. The $11.4 million depends on Gov. Rick Scott signing the 2015-16 budget, which he will do unless he wants to force a government shutdown next week. FAU also would get $3.5 million for a life-sciences initiative and $900,000 for Tech Runway, a public-private partnership to help start-up companies.

Always, though, it’s about numbers. Board of Governors documents show that as of this academic year 75 percent of FAU bachelor’s degree holders were employed in the United States or continuing their education one year after graduating. That percentage aligns FAU with the systemwide average, and is one of the board’s key “performance funding metrics.”

On another key metric, though, FAU still fares poorly. The six-year graduation rate from 2009 through this year averaged 47 percent, better only than Florida A&M and far below the statewide average of 72 percent. Kelly got the rate up enough in one year to help get back that $7 million. And FAU’s academic progress rate—moving students toward a degree—of 69 percent ranked last for this year and was 15 points below the statewide average.

As a New York police administrator said, however, Compstat is a tool based on “continuous improvement.” Kelly and his top administrators have targeted FAU’s weaknesses and begun to address them. The new money will add to the effort. FAU, for example, wants to raise the graduation rate to 50 percent by 2019.

It was addition by subtraction when Mary Jane Saunders resigned as FAU’s president in 2013, following her disastrous performance during the stadium naming-rights controversy. Looking at the problems Kelly—and his predecessor, Interim President Dennis Crudele—inherited, FAU had been managed badly. Florida’s new system leaves no room for that and no place to hide.

Feral cats

This is a big week for wild cats.

On the agenda for today’s Palm Beach County Commission meeting are several changes to rules regarding dogs and cats. The most significant is Animal Care and Control Director Diane Sauve’s plan for dealing with the growing feral cat population.

As a dog owner, I’ve long found it annoying that dogs have to be on leashes, but cats can roam. They leave their scat, they fight, and they ravage bird populations. Cat lovers, though, feed the feral felines, and they multiply.

One solution, of course, is to trap the wild cats and euthanize them. Sauve wants to avoid that. She proposed a program with the acronym TNVR: trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return. The staff memo to commissioners refers to “community cats,” and the ordinance would allow them to be kept on private property with the owner’s permission. The memo refers to cat lovers as “community cat caregivers.” The county could seize cats that were a threat to public health or safety.

The League of Cities agrees with the approach. The county commission approved it unanimously on first reading. I agree it’s the compassionate and probably the most practical approach, but I still don’t get cat people.

And bigger cats

Meanwhile, today in Sarasota the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hear a presentation on the Florida panther that includes a discussion of whether the species still should be classified as endangered, as it has been since 1968.

A staff memo notes that the panther population is growing, though the supposed best estimate ranges between 100 and 180. An 80 percent margin of error is hardly scientific. The staff notes “higher levels of conflict” between panthers and humans and more “depredations”—panthers killing pets and livestock.

“As conflicts increase,” the presentation says, “social tolerance of panthers is strained.” A chart on panther population lists the “Maximum number that people will tolerate” and the “Minimum number to meet people’s desire.” The report blames the federal government—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – for giving the state too little flexibility in “managing” the panthers.

Florida might need a genuine debate on the panther’s status. I wonder, though, about a genuine debate happening on a commission that includes a rancher, a utility executive, a lawyer, a real estate investor, a vice president of an agriculture conglomerate, a construction company owner and a recycling/trash hauler owner. Some have received awards from conservation groups; none has an extensive background in conservation.

It all reminds me of the continued push to “de-list” the manatee, a push that comes regularly from marine industries that don’t like “no-wake” zones. A false debate could turn a burgeoning success story into a reason to have fewer panthers.

Hospitals facing haircuts

With the Legislature’s approval last week of the new state budget, we see how much area hospitals will gain or lose in public money for treating Medicaid patients and the uninsured. Mostly, they will lose.

Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, which gives more free care than any other south-county facility, loses about $1.86 million. That’s not good, but it’s better than the loss of more than $7 million Bethesda once faced during the House-Senate-Gov. Scott health care dispute. Boca Raton Community Hospital will lose about $705,000.

Both are non-profits. West Boca and Delray medical centers are part of for-profit Tenet. They will lose almost a combined $3 million. St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, which provides more Medicaid and charity care than any coastal hospital, will get about $6 million more. Everyone agrees that the state still lacks a long-term solution on health care financing.

Dry spell

Living in South Florida, with our average rainfall of 50-plus inches a year, it can be easy to think that drought is someone else’s problem—like Californians. We should remember, though, how quickly drought can come.

May brought just half the normal rainfall—the smallest amount in seven years. According to the South Florida Water Management District, the rainy season begins around May 20 and lasts into mid-October. Fortunately, water levels throughout the district were at normal levels in May, giving us some cushion.

But the forecast is for a drier, hotter summer. Through June, we’ve had less than half our normal rainfall; for the year, we’ve had two-thirds of the normal amount. As of last week, according to the South Florida Water Management District, water levels in the conservation areas and Lake Okeechobee were acceptable. Without a pickup in rain, however, the dry season that begins in late October could be dangerously dry

About the auther

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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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