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VOL. 131 | NO. 211 | Friday, October 21, 2016

Trustees: Jackson State Must Act Now to Stanch Cash Drain

JEFF AMY, Associated Press

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — College Board officials are intervening in Jackson State University's finances, saying the 10,000-student university's cash reserves have been spent down to a dangerously low point.

Trustees announced Thursday that they had hired an accounting firm to oversee the school's finances. Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce said he hadn't taken over JSU's finances, but JSU must consult the accountants and College Board staff before spending money.

"We are partnering in decisions moving forward," Boyce said.

College Board Chief Financial Officer John Pearce delivered an unusual public rebuke of President Carolyn Meyers' leadership at the trustees' meeting. JSU and the board have denied rumors this week that Meyers, who is under contract through 2019, would resign or be fired. Though Boyce and Board President Dr. Doug Rouse declined to discuss Meyers' job status, both expressed concerns about leadership at JSU.

"I think there are obviously some management issues," Boyce said.

Trustees declined to consider a plan for JSU to develop new dormitories Thursday, citing the problems.

Meyers, president at JSU since 2011, didn't attend Thursday's meeting. A university spokeswoman said JSU would release a statement later in the day.

The board hired the accounting firm of Matthews, Cutrer and Lindsay, the same firm that conducted a review of contracting at the University of Mississippi Medical Center before trustees declined to renew the contract of Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones. The decision to publicly discuss JSU's problems may be a reaction to the controversy that engulfed trustees when they parted ways with Jones. Many of those concerns had been discussed behind closed doors, or in nonconfrontational terms in public.

The board had asked JSU for improvements starting in 2014, but Boyce said the university's plans to increase revenue and cut expenses were inadequate and the situation deteriorated further in the budget year that ended June 30.

By the end of the year, JSU had only $4 million cash on hand, down from $37 million at the end of the 2012 budget year. That left the university with only about eight days' worth of cash on hand, not enough to even meet one payroll. That's down from cash that would have covered 73 days of payroll in 2013. State universities, on average, have 114 days of cash on hand.

"There are things you can't anticipate with a university, so it's very important that universities keep a strong cash balance on hand," Boyce said.

Pearce said that because spending was outstripping revenue, JSU was using its cash reserves to meet debt payments, which have risen to about $8.5 million a year. The university has a much heavier ratio of long-term liabilities to assets than Mississippi's other seven public universities.

Boyce said it could take several years for JSU to dig out of the hole. He said board and university staff are holding weekly meetings that he often attends.

JSU has also faced a number of employment lawsuits since Meyers became president. In September, the board unanimously voted in closed session to reject the settlement of a lawsuit former women's head basketball coach Denise Taylor Travis had filed against JSU.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

PROPERTY SALES 81 201 16,108
MORTGAGES 40 104 10,026
BUILDING PERMITS 130 336 38,272
BANKRUPTCIES 28 56 7,528