Wright State president tries to reassure campus about budget crisis

Wright State president Cheryl Schrader speaks during a board of trustees meeting today.
Wright State president Cheryl Schrader speaks during a board of trustees meeting today.

Wright State University’s president told trustees on Friday that staying off state fiscal watch is “priority No. 1.”

But her reassurances did not satisfy all faculty and students.

Just a few weeks ago, Schrader ordered departments to slash their remaining budgets by 66 percent, an attempt to cut $10 million from spending by June 30. The cuts are a last-ditch effort to keep the school off fiscal watch.

“With strong performance and doubling down, we together created the possibility of staying off fiscal watch entirely,” Schrader told the university’s board at a meeting Friday. “We are so close to reaching what was considered an impossible goal.”

RELATED: Wright State was warned that more cuts were needed a year ago

The board did not have a major financial decision before it Friday as trustees are essentially waiting to see if the administration can successfully implement the cuts with just weeks left to spare. Even though tensions have been high at Wright State, board chairman Doug Fecher called for unity with graduation just one day away.

“No matter our differences, we all believe in Wright State and what it means in the lives of those we serve,” he said.

Under fiscal watch, the WSU board and administration would have to adopt a financial recovery plan with an eye toward ending the status of fiscal watch within three years, according to state law. They would be required to produce forecasts and plans for getting the school’s finances back on track, and if the administration did not do this the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education could appoint someone to make those decisions for the university.

WSU needs to add around $6 million to its reserve fund to stay off fiscal watch, but that is unlikely to happen at this point, chief business officer Walt Branson has said.

Last June, Wright State trustees slashed $30.8 million from the school’s budget in an effort to begin correcting years of overspending. The university’s fiscal year 2018 budget is $284 million. Schrader on Friday said that it’s clear those cuts were not implemented properly.

RELATED: Top financial executive at Wright State to retire

She blamed Wright State’s struggle to stay on-budget for fiscal year 2018 on declining enrollment and increased health care costs.

A steep decline in the number of international students occurred over the last two years and contributed to a decline of $15 million in net tuition revenue. Also, fewer students enrolled from outside of Ohio than expected. That resulted in tuition coming in $4.7 million under projections. Non-Ohio residents pay more for tuition than in-state students do.

Unbudgeted scholarship and fellowship expenses cost WSU around $3.5 million last fall and medical claims have come in around $5.5 million over budget so far this year, according to the university.

Medical Claims have increased or decreased by as much as $500,000 in a single week, according to the university. Both Branson and trustee Sean Fitzpatrick have said the large claims may be from employees or their family members who had major medical problems this year or are about to retire or leave the university, but an exact cause is still unknown.

RELATED: ‘Fiscal watch’ would mean tighter scrutiny for WSU

The latest cuts were made with around 11 weeks left in the fiscal year and after most of school’s revenue has already come in.

Wright State’s fiscal volatility has fueled the frustrations of faculty, staff and students, leading many to voice concerns during board of trustees meetings.

The new cuts were made “across the board,” something masters student Molly Simonius said Friday could hurt graduate students.

“Recent decisions are dishonest, disrespectful and unjust,” Simonius said. “Even further, no accountability has been taken for the financial problems this university is in, only fingers are pointed.”


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