COLUMBIA - South Carolina's only public historically black college received an emergency loan of $6 million Wednesday with conditions that the state have more control over the school's spending and work with the college to attain better management.
The loan comes as South Carolina State leaders asked the state for about $14 million to pay its immediate bills. The school also faces issues with its accreditation.
The state's Budget and Control Board, led by Gov. Nikki Haley, authorized the loan to South Carolina State with conditions that:
. Up to $500,000 would be spent on outside consultants to root out mismanagement and ensure the money is spent wisely;
. The Board of Trustees adopt anti-nepotism and conflict of interest policies;
. The state oversee its contracts, among other items. Haley told reporters later that an inspector general's report has raised questions about some of the school's contracting practices.
Under the agreement, the college would need to ask the General Assembly for funds to repay the loan.
The budget board is made up of Haley, Comptroller Richard Eckstrom, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, Treasurer Curtis Loftis and Rep. Brian White. The measure passed, 3-1. Haley, White and Loftis, who was serving as chairman, voted for it. Eckstrom abstained on the vote, saying that he had concerns that the emergency loan would not solve the ailing school's long-term problems and that he does not believe the board has the authority to issue such a loan.
Leatherman, R-Florence, said the stop-gap measure was not a good solution.
"I don't want to do a Band-Aid down there. We've got an institution that's bleeding to death and a Band-Aid and a tourniquet is not going to stop it," Leatherman said. He said that a working group of key school leaders should come back to the Budget and Control Board and cite specific emergency needs for a loan. The loan's requirement that the dollars be repaid from state funds will be difficult if not impossible to meet this year, he said.
"The chances are slim to none," said Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, of dollars for repaying the loan making it into the state's budget this year.
Eckstrom said that state leaders should not focus on the fact that S.C. State is a historically black college. He also said that the school is weak and dollars wouldn't solve its problems. "These are kids that are going there because they can't get into these other schools," he said. The school has a high percentage of students who receive significant financial aid. S.C. State supporters, who packed the meeting, groaned at those comments.
Haley said that more than 80 percent of the loan is to pay outstanding bills for basic maintenance and food service on campus. "These are essential services. This is food, this is maintenance. The thing we can do is get them moving again," Haley said.
S.C. State president Thomas Elzey said the school was grateful for the funds. He said he was unaware of nepotism issues that were raised as conditions of the loan. The school has significant challenges ahead. The school's immediate bills total about $14 million and the administration will work on a long-term plan to meet those needs. "We will keep the lights on at S.C. State," Elzey said. The school "was given a lifeline," he said. "It will help us continue to tread water. We want to be able to swim to shore."
Elzey said the school was continuing to work with accreditors on long-term issues, such as the school's governance and management issues. He expects a decision in June on S.C. State's accreditation status.
There are some positive signs. For instance, Elzey said, the school had a record number of admissions.
Other states fund their historically black schools at a much higher rate, said Ken Mosely, a retired faculty member who attended the meeting.
"The poorest of the students go there," Mosely said. "The state of South Carolina should have an obligation to those students."
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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