A South Carolina legislator seeking an audit into the finances of Winthrop University said he had a productive meeting with the Rock Hill college’s interim president Tuesday.
But State Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, said he and six other African-American Democratic legislators will continue with their request investigation into how the state college handled funding gaps the past few years. In particular, King said he is concerned about Winthrop dipping into its reserves the past few years and construction debt that the school holds.
He said other legislators who requested the audit want to continue with it. “I think there are some issues that they are wanting to have addressed,” King told South Carolina Radio Network. “I don’t see where they are wanting to remove their signatures from an audit. After speaking with them, they’re still wanting to move forward.”
King said he met with Interim President Debra Boyd and Board of Trustees chair Kathy Bigham on Tuesday. “Had a wonderful conversation,” he said. “They were very informative and very educational in telling me where the school stands financially. I would hope to be able to relay that over to the others.”
The request with the Legislative Audit Council asks the agency to look into Winthrop’s finances and “determine if the college is meeting its mission and operating in a sound fiscal manner pursuant to accepted accounting principles.” King said his understanding is that the college would only have about $4 million in cash reserves on hand this upcoming fiscal year. Earlier this year, legislators were told the school may have to pull $2 million from savings to help avoid cuts.
The LAC needs signatures from at least five lawmakers before it can move forwards with any audits. The agency’s board is scheduled to vote on authorizing the Winthrop audit later this month.
King said he wants to avoid another situation like SC State University, where a combination of declining enrollment, misspending, and lack of oversight led to major deficits. A recent audit found the historically-black college in Orangeburg could be facing a $23.5 million deficit by the end of June.
Winthrop school officials did not wish to comment on the specifics behind the audit request, but Bigham told the Rock Hill Herald that King had previously been a “friend” to the school and that Winthrop would cooperate fully with any forensic investigation.
Last month, Winthrop trustees hired Kent State education dean Dan Mahony to be the school’s next president. Mahony will permanently replace Jamie Comstock Williamson, who was fired in June. Trustees said they had lost confidence in Williamson’s leadership after they said she had improperly hired her husband and then lied about it to them.
King said the lawmakers also had concerns about the low percentage of minorities in the Winthrop administration. “If the population of their (student body) is about 28 percent African-American, I think that should be resembled through their hiring practices.”
Mahony will take over as Winthrop’s president on July 1. Boyd will return to her previous position as provost at that time.
Besides King, the six other House members who requested the audit were House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia; State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg; State Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia; Rep. Pat Henegan, D-Bennettsville, Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Kingstree, and State Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg. All are members of the Legislative Black Caucus.