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Sunday, February 25, 2007

LeMoyne financial dilemma worsens

LeMoyne-Owen College needs nearly $3 million by the end of June to continue operations.

While the school has been financially beleaguered for years, the crisis this time is so extreme that some in the community worry the city's only historically black school will close.

LeMoyne-Owen board chairman Robert Lipscomb admitted Thursday that the situation is dire, but declined to go into specifics.

"If people don't step forward to fund it, (the school's time) is very short," said Lipscomb, a LeMoyne-Owen graduate as well as the chief financial officer for the city of Memphis.

Calls to numerous other board members as well as to interim school president Johnnie Watson were not returned.

The school faced a smaller crisis last year, when it was forced to raise $1 million by June.

The news also comes in the wake of the resignation of board member Cary Booker, a former LeMoyne staff member and current associate dean and director of the Academic Foundations Center at Rutgers University.

Booker was one of eight new board members brought in last September to try to repair the problems at the school, which has a student population of about 650.

Less than six months later, though, Booker is gone, citing in part the school's financial woes.

"I have also watched with alarm the growing depth of the financial chasm that we must leap to save LeMoyne-Owen College and I am concerned that our present course is not sufficient to affect the college's rescue," Booker wrote in his resignation letter dated Feb 8. "I hope that my conclusions about the outcome of our current course are proved incorrect."

Booker could not be reached for comment.

According to the school's projections, LeMoyne-Owen needs almost $2.9 million to pay its bills through June 30. That figure includes enough money to meet payroll as well as pay other assorted bills.

According to the school's projections, which could change, LeMoyne-Owen has enough money to pay bills through March.

But in April, the school projects a negative cash flow of more than $200,000. In May, that grows by another $1 million, then totals $2.9 million by the end of June.

In addition, the school remains more than $6 million in debt. That debt was the primary reason the school had its probationary status extended for another year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools last December.

SACS first placed LeMoyne-Owen on probation in 2005, following two years of "warning status."

Lipscomb has what he calls a seven-point plan in place to try to save the school. The plan includes restructuring the board, reviewing and restructuring academic programs and increasing the emphasis on marketing and alumni affairs.

"We've got to get the school enough capital to operate. We've just got to. Every year we're in the same situation," he said. "It is the most important time in the school's history."


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