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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Donors rescue LeMoyne from vat of red ink

For LeMoyne-Owen College officials, the future is a little less bleak today.
Interim president Johnnie Watson said Thursday that the financially beleaguered school has received more than $4 million in pledges and contributions. College officials also hope for another $3 million combined from Shelby County and the state, pending legislative approval.

This means that, despite dire predictions over the school's future in recent months, LeMoyne-Owen will hold its first day of classes Aug. 20.

"There was never any question in my mind as to whether LeMoyne-Owen College would be open this year or not. ..." Watson said. "I've lived in this community over 60 years, and the community has been very responsive when needed. The greater Memphis community has responded."

That response comes as the school has suffered financial disarray for years. In the last decade, the college's debt has more than doubled -- from nearly $5.3 million in 1997 to nearly $9.75 million in 2005 -- while its enrollment dropped by more than 40 percent, to 589 this school year.

That led the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the area's accrediting body, to place LeMoyne-Owen on probation for the last two years. SACS officials will visit the campus in September before announcing a decision on that probationary status at their annual December meeting, being held in New Orleans.

School leaders believe the donations are enough to return LeMoyne-Owen to solid financial footing.

"I think (SACS) will respond positively ... It is assured that we will get (that pledged money)," LeMoyne chief financial officer Jim Dugger said. "There's a lot more work to do, and we're going to keep on pushing. (But) it makes the journey a lot more pleasant."

Added Watson: "I feel very confident that we have addressed the concerns SACS had, and I anxiously await the meeting."

While more than $4 million has been pledged to the school, only about $1.5 million is in hand now, Dugger said. The rest is expected to be paid over the next few years.

According to Dugger, the pledges come from:

The city of Memphis, which has pledged $3 million over three years. The first $1 million was delivered June 29.

The United Negro College Fund, which advanced the school next year's contribution of $292,659.

Cummins Inc., which has paid $200,000 of a $500,000, three-year pledge.

Radio host Tom Joyner, who gave $200,000.

The United Church of Christ, which has paid $200,000 of a pledged $600,000 over three years.