August 20, 2019 11:27:38 AM
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors unanimously joined their counterparts in Lowndes County on Monday by asking the State Auditor's Office to investigate East Mississippi Community College's financial decline over the last decade.
EMCC's general operating fund balance dropped from roughly $11 million in 2010 to only $710,844 by the end of June 2018. Administration has responded with budget cuts across the board.
The most important question is who green-lighted such massive deficit spending, Spencer Broocks and Rudy Johnson, the Oktibbeha County members of the EMCC Board of Trustees, told supervisors.
"It's bad, guys," Johnson said. "We lost $10 million and we can't find out who authorized it."
The EMCC board approves an annual budget and a monthly claims docket for completed purchases and services -- broken down by department, location and amount spent -- essentially meaning the board is technically approving spending.
But in a phone interview with The Dispatch this morning, Broocks said even the claims docket is ambiguous.
"In the description, it just says 'advertising' or 'supplies' (or another department)," Broocks said. "It doesn't go into detail as to what each purchase is for."
A significant amount of the deficit came from athletics spending. Athletic salaries in all sports have increased over the past 10 years, and the athletic department spent $2.035 million in Fiscal Year 2018, $1.14 million more than its revenue. Football, a program that has earned national notoriety under head coach Buddy Stephens, outspent total athletic revenue by itself that fiscal year.
Both Broocks and Johnson said individual departments' budgets don't paint an accurate picture of how they are spending money because some of their money gets shuffled to other departments.
EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks could not confirm this since he has only been in his position since January, but he said in an interview that he has "heard those same grumblings" and aims to prevent it from happening in the future.
"I'm trying to make sure that we don't allow certain areas to piggyback off other areas," Alsobrooks said.
Community colleges across the state and nation have cut budgets due to enrollment drops and reduced state and local funding, Alsobrooks said. At EMCC, enrollment has declined by nearly 1,300 students since 2010, and school officials previously told The Dispatch EMCC is expecting that to fall another 2 to 3 percent this year.
EMCC's main campus is in Scooba, but it also has a Golden Triangle campus in Mayhew, the Communiversity on Highway 82 in Lowndes County and Lion Hills Center and Country Club in Columbus. Purchasing Lion Hills and building new student unions on the Scooba and Mayhew campuses were particularly expensive, Alsobrooks said, and EMCC will likely have to make more budget cuts this fiscal year even though the budget projects a 3-percent enrollment decline.
As for the Communiversity, a $42 million state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility that opened this month, Lowndes County invested $10 million, Oktibbeha $2.5 million, Clay $1 million and EMCC $400,000. The rest came from state funds and Appalachian Regional Commission grants.
The college owes the public an apology for its spending habits and lack of transparency, Johnson said.
"I have voted to increase tuition based on the figures that were given to me. That won't happen again," he said. "If we had been given the numbers that were needed and we knew where all the spending was, we wouldn't have (increased) tuition."
An audit from the state "might be the only thing that sets you free," District 1 Supervisor and Board Vice President John Montgomery told the trustees.
Johnson and District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard agreed the EMCC board could change bylaws to make sure departments cannot spend each other's money in the future.
"In the spirit of total transparency, I think athletics is the biggest liability," Howard said.
The board of trustees is comprised of two members from each of the counties EMCC serves: Lowndes, Lauderdale, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee and Kemper. Those board members are appointed by their respective county board of supervisors.
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