South Carolina State University’s president appeared before a state financial board requesting help for a $13.6 million cash shortfall at the school, explaining that S.C State has not been able to pay some of its vendors since October.
The school is asking state lawmakers for the money to pay its bills through June. Thomas Elzey appeared before the Budget and Control Board on Wednesday. The board must approve any deficit by a state entity.
Elzey, who took over at the school last summer, said he’s still discovering problems. “When I walked in the door, I found there was a huge amount of things that were kept under the table,” he told the board on Wednesday. “People weren’t talking about it and were not fully disclosing (it) to me, even as president. We continue to peel it back and find additional things about the university as we work through it.”
He said about a dozen vendors, including the school bookstore, food service, and maintenance firms have all threatened to withhold services if they are not paid soon. Elzey has previously blamed declining enrollment and sloppy bookkeeping by the previous administration for the school’s deficit.
He pledged the school would have a balanced budget after July, but said S.C. State’s accreditation is at risk.
Governor Nikki Haley, who chairs the board, expressed concern that just paying the bills would be a band-aid approach to fixing a long term problem of fiscal mismanagement. “There have been bad decisions made at that school. We can’t paint over it and say, ‘Oh, if we get this money, it’ll fix everything.’ I don’t think that’s the case. We have to make sure that, whatever we do, we don’t fall into that same trap again.”
She preferred to wait on the findings of the South Carolina Inspector General’s Office, which is currently looking into the school’s finances.
The board was not willing to commit to the funds at this point. Elzey said S.C. State may have to take some drastic steps to deal with the problem if it does not get enough to overcome the shortfall. “If we cannot meet our enrollment targets, if we do not receive the assistance we’ve asked for… it will require either a resizing of that university or an examination of other alternatives.”
Elzey does not believe that drastic changes need to be made at this time. But, if the school is not given the funds outright, he suggested a loan as an alternative.
Meanwhile, the governor made it clear that she was unhappy that none of S.C. State’s trustees or state legislators who represent the Orangeburg area were at Wednesday’s meeting. “You need to have the support of your board,” she told Elzey. “Every one of them should be lining up. And every member of your (legislative) delegation should be standing here and they’re not.
The governor said she has never seen the school’s trustees around the Statehouse, other than a meeting she ordered in March 2013.
Tom Hayes contributed to this report