Hit the spending brakes at S.C. State
Even if the S.C. State University Board of Trustees is not yet ready to abandon plans for the James E. Clyburn Transportation Center, it members should surely see that this is not the time to move forward.
But that is just what they seem intent upon doing.
S.C. State has, in the words of acting board Chairman John Corbitt, “some big, big problems” — problems that dwarf the $1.6 million that he wants to dedicate to construction of the Emily E. Clyburn Archives building. It is part of the transportation center named for her husband, 6th District Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the U.S. House.
Mr. Corbitt and the rest of the board should think about his words. Those problems need to be addressed first. And doing so is not going to be quick or easy.
For one thing, the Orangeburg school’s leadership is in flux. President George Cooper resigned in March, and Cynthia A. Warrick became interim president just last month. The board has an acting chairman. And the school’s vice president for finance is new in the job.
Beyond those personnel issues, the college owes money from previous years, expects to come up short this year because of shrinking enrollment and has documented management and accounting problems.
To make a major commitment to the Clyburn center would be foolhardy — particularly when the money the board is considering would come from tuition, state appropriations and the education lottery. The board’s primary objective should be getting the school’s finances in order and ensuring that there will be enough money to cover the school’s primary mission — academics.
At this point, the school has still not closed out its books from the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended in June. It still does not know how many students will attend when classes start on Aug. 21, even though July 16 was the deadline for students to pay tuition and fees for the fall semester.
And it still does not have a plan for how it will pay for the $107 million transportation complex beyond the $24 million it received from the federal government.
Mr. Eaton said dedicating $1.6 million of the school’s scarce funds for the center would put it in a position to qualify for $3 million in matching funds.
But the U.S. Department of Transportation has said the school is a “high-risk grantee.” And S.C. State also has lost the designation which gave it an edge in getting federal funds.
Maurice Washington has been a sensible voice on the board, but his advice has gone largely unheeded.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, the former Charleston City Councilman said, “The quicker we come to a decision that we can’t afford it [the center], the quicker the president can come up with a budget we can rally around.”
The board did not make a decision about budgeting money for the Clyburn building. It plans to have further discussion on the matter on Aug. 28 at a finance committee meeting.
Perhaps by then the school will have more information about its debt and student attendance for the next school year. And perhaps that information will be a sobering influence and remind the board of its responsibility to its students, their parents and to the taxpayers of the state.
Failing to address the state-owned university’s money problems will only make them worse.