SC State chairman: Budget is better, but more help needed

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina State University has weathered the immediate storm of a massive budget deficit by cutting $19 million and balancing the school's budget, university Board Chairman Charles Way said.

But now the university needs more money to pay for years of neglected buildings, roads and other structures and to pay for debts accumulated by previous boards and presidents, Way told the Legislature's Joint Bond Review Committee on Tuesday.

"We truly, truly cannot survive unless we have some additional funding," Way said.

Way wasn't making a direct request for cash Tuesday, but he made sure his update to the committee that reviews borrowing requests from state agencies detailed that SC State's problems aren't over.

Years of mismanagement led administrators to use money that would have gone to keeping up buildings and roads to salaries and other things needed to keep the door open, Way said.

The university's boiler system to create steam is 55 years old and costs the school $850,000. Much of the steam is lost and unused, and a renovation would save about $530,000 a year. SC State's tallest dorm, Trust Hall, is closed and needs $3.7 million to get the building up to fire code and fix bathrooms and living areas, Way said.

"We can't cut much more," Way said. "There is no way, under God's green earth, that we can handle all of the past debts in previous administrations. And we should not be required to do so."

The main goal of the university now is keeping accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put SC State on probation, and the organization must decide by June whether to remove probation or drop accreditation. Without accreditation, South Carolina's only public historically black college would have to close.

Way said the main issues now are financial. The new temporary university board appointed earlier this year by the Legislature took drastic steps to improve the college's situation, including cutting $19 million from the budget. SC State has eliminated about 200 jobs over two years and currently has about 625 workers.

SC State has a balanced budget "for the first time since God knows when," Way said.

Way promised to keep paying off the university's debt, adding that trustees have taken a hard line in making the people it owes money prove the exact nature of the debts. Way also promised to pay back loans the school received, and told lawmakers the $22 million in state help pledged to the university has ensured its survival.

SC State's enrollment is up since the new board took over and the future looks much brighter, Way said.

"I'd like to thank you all for your role you played in the ongoing success of South Carolina State University," Way said. "Specifically, your commitment to not allowing the university to fail."

Lawmakers didn't have questions after Way's presentation. After the meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman said the new board has done great work saving the school, but he isn't committing to any new money without a debate.

"I'm really happy with that new board," said Leatherman, R-Florence. "Yes, they do have issues to deal with, and I told Mr. Way that's a policy decision the General Assembly will have to make."


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