ashland.news
June 18, 2024

SOU announces budget miscalculations, promises increased accountability

The entrance to Southern Oregon University at Churchill Hall. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
August 28, 2023

One line item ‘double-counted,’ another missed altogether; on plus side, enrollment up and state to send more money than expected

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

In the face of recently discovered accounting mistakes leading to over $1 million in changes to the 2023-24 fiscal-year budget for Southern Oregon University, President Rick Bailey delivered a candid assessment Monday: the university can and should do better. 

“The tolerance that we have when it comes to our budgeting and fiscal processes needed to be better, it needed to be tighter,” he said at a special meeting of the board of trustees at Hannon Library. “I think it’s reasonable for us to expect more in the way that we manage our funding and in the way that we project our budget.”

In a chart of figures, he outlined what he described as a good news, bad news situation. Numerous items for the previously approved budget were changed. But while some adjustments were due to “poor assumptions” or mistakes, others were due to unexpected additional revenue.

Recalculations began in June when it was discovered that a line in the supplies and services budget was “double counted,” leading to a $1.1 million discrepancy, Bailey said. He described the discovery as a catalyst for deeper exploration. 

The SOU Board of Trustees meets in the DeBoer room at Hannon Library on Monday. Ashland.news photo by Morgan Rothborne

“Once we started to identify that, pull back the layers, we said, ‘OK, let’s look at everything else.’ … Thus we had several deep-dive meetings,” Bailey said.

In the good news, August enrollment outpaced April estimates, yielding a $613,638 revenue increase from tuition and fees. Miscellaneous fees such as debt collection had not been “updated with latest projections,” leading to a $125,136 revenue increase, according to meeting materials.

The Oregon State Legislature also awarded more than estimated in April, a $1,375,952 increase.

Other accounting oversights included neglecting to account for cost-of-living adjustments and other increased expenses in payroll for union represented employees, an estimated $798,200 adjustment. Costs associated with graduate assistants were also “unbudgeted,” a $144,089 adjustment.

Bailey demurred to point fingers at any particular staff members, aside from general statements. He did say the budget director was on leave at a critical juncture and that the incident led to a reorganization within the executive structure of the institution. 

“I’m not going to get into any specific HR or specific personnel or people. …Out of respect for people involved in HR, except to say there was an opportunity for us to improve,” he said.

SOU President Rick Bailey, at right, consults with Neil Woolf, SOU executive vice president and acting vice president of finance and administration, at Monday’s special meeting. Board secretary Sabrina Prud’homme is at left. Ashland.news photo by Morgan Rothborne

SOU Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Perkinson abruptly left his position July 28, as previously reported by Ashland.news. Bailey referred to Perkinson’s exit as a retirement. In an interview with Ashland.news last week, Perkinson said “it was just a good time for me to transition to something new.”

Since Perkinson’s departure, Bailey said has been working personally with Niel Woolf, executive vice president of SOU, on the institution’s budget. Woolf is also now acting vice president for finance and administration.

After the accounting mistakes were discovered, Bailey said he invited Jim Pinkard, director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, to review the university’s budget in an advisory capacity. A representative from SOU’s auditing firm, CliftonLarsonAllen, was also invited to review the financial materials. The university will be also bringing in an outside consultant to analyze its budget planning and financial processes to seek out improvements. Bailey promised increased transparency and accountability.

“I want to put this on the record: The university is above water. But we’re not sitting on a pile of cash either,” he said.

He referred to the recently approved SOU Forward plan as “a significant crucible.” The plan would reduce expenses by $3.6 million this year, identify another $9 million in recurring cost reductions and eliminate the equivalent of almost 82 full-time positions, as previously reported in Ashland.news. He stated the plan was still viable, and its timeline for its implementation will be shortened.

Bailey described the university as a ship struck with enormous waves of positive and negative changes. He underlined long-term optimism. 

“Ultimately we are doing all of this because we owe it to the health of our institution, to keep moving forward in a positive way,” he said. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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