- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

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.

At June 30, JSU had $4 million in cash on hand, down from $37 million in 2012, as spending outstripped revenue.

JSU president since 2011, Meyers didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting. University spokeswoman Olivia Goodheart later said in a statement that JSU aims to add $10 million to its cash reserves by June by not filling vacant jobs, limiting travel and other purchases, and energy efficiency.

“We will continue to meet our obligations including payroll, scholarships and operating expenses,” Goodheart said.

College Board Chief Financial Officer John Pearce delivered an unusual public rebuke of 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.

The board hired the accounting firm of Matthews, Cutrer and Lindsay, which also reviewed 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 were discussed behind closed doors, or in non-confrontational 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 ended June 30.

JSU could cover operations for less than eight days using cash on hand at June 30, not enough to meet even one payroll. That’s down from cash that would have covered 73 days of operations 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 JSU was draining 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 recover. 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 that former women’s head basketball coach Denise Taylor Travis had filed against JSU.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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