S.C. State University could have new trustees within two weeks after state lawmakers agreed Wednesday on a bill to oust current board members.
“We are one step closer to righting the ship,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, an Orangeburg Democrat who was on the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated a compromise. “(But) this is not a silver bullet.”
South Carolina’s only historically black public college is struggling with a deficit that has reached $20 million and threatens the loss of its accreditation.
The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to replace the Orangeburg school’s trustees but could not agree on how to appoint new trustees. After two days of negotiations, the conference committee agreed on who should appoint seven interim board members to guide the school through mid-2018.
The temporary board will be appointed by: Gov. Nikki Haley; Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; Senate Finance Higher Education subcommittee chairman John Courson, R-Richland; House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson; House Ways and Means Higher Education subcommittee chairman Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley; state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, R-Lexington; and state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, R-Saluda.
The seven Republicans will make the new appointments within seven days after Haley signs the bill. House and Senate leaders hope to get the bill to the governor as early as Thursday. The governor’s office did not say Wednesday if Haley would sign the bill as soon as it reaches her desk.
The new S.C. State trustees could meet as early as the week of May 18, said Merrill, adding he has received interest from business and education leaders who want to sit on the board.
House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise after agreeing to exclude state Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom from naming an interim board member. State Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Richland Democrat on the conference committee, said he was unhappy with Eckstrom’s comments last year that students went to S.C. State because they could not get into other colleges.
Currently, S.C. State’s 13-member board has just six active trustees after a series of resignations.
The new board will work to turn around the 119-year-old school’s deficit, expected to grow to $23.5 million by the end of June, a financial audit said.
The school’s financial troubles stem from its failure to cut its budget as its enrollment has dropped by 40 percent since 2007. Cutbacks in federal financial aid contributed to the loss in students.
S.C. State’s accreditation also is at risk because of its money woes.
Accreditors placed S.C. State on probation last year. Another vote on the school’s accreditation status takes place next month. That vote is important because students at unaccredited schools cannot get federal financial aid.