As the AJC delves deeper into the financial crisis at Georgia Perimeter College, new questions emerge in light of what seem to be serial shortfalls at the school.
Who was minding the store at the campus and at the Regents? Will students and faculty return to a diminished campus and offerings as a result of what could be a $16 million shortfall this year?
The newspaper reports that the budget deficit that drove Georgia Perimeter College President Anthony Tricoli from office last week was not the school’s first, or even second or third.
Many of the posters have said that Tricoli was unaware of the massive shortfalls. But, as we have been discussing on the blogs on the firing of principals in APS schools where there was widespread cheating, aren’t top leaders responsible for what occurs under their watch?
State audits and a University System analysis show the school has been overspending its budget by millions of dollars for the past four years and has whittled down its cash reserves to almost nothing as Tricoli dipped into the funds to cover the deficits.
In both fiscal 2009 and 2010, the school spent more than $7 million more than it took in from tuition, fees, grants and state and federal appropriations. In fiscal 2011, the shortfall fell to $5 million. This year, which ends June 30, the deficit could hit $16 million, the largest shortfall in memory — and possibly ever — at a state college.
“If it turns out to be $16 million, I would say this is unprecedented,” said Claire Arnold, director of the education audit division of the State Department of Audits and Accounts.
The school’s reserves fell from $9.2 million in 2008 to $288,000 when this fiscal year began last July.
Neither University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby nor Tricoli would answer questions about the financial crisis. Tricoli, who has been singled out for praise by Huckaby in the past, referred the AJC to his lawyer.
Tricoli, once considered a rising star in the system, was moved into a central office job, and the school’s top financial officer had already been scheduled to retire. But the impact of the fiscal crisis on students and faculty at the nearly 27,000-student two-year college could be far-reaching.
University System officials have been vague so far about the impact on students and faculty. They are still looking at the school’s books.
But Huckaby said in a letter to the college community that the shortfall will follow the school into next year, and the consequences could include layoffs.
“We do not know at this time precisely the impact in every budget area, but it will be significant and will likely impact personnel,” he wrote. “These actions are necessary to address a shortfall of this magnitude.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog