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DDN: WSU leader says school needs to stay focused with just days left in fiscal year

WSU Trustees

Excerpt from the Dayton Daily News

With three days left before the fiscal year ends, Wright State University is expected to generate around a $7.2-million surplus to add to its reserves after having a budget deficit every year since 2012.

The university publicly celebrated the surplus in a social media post last week, but Wright State’s board of trustees chairman Doug Fecher quickly cautioned the school.

“To be clear…surplus yes, financially secure will take more work. We cannot let up on the discipline we’ve demonstrated. Reason to be optimistic but let’s keep our eyes on the road,” Fecher responded from his personal Twitter account @FecherDoug.

The Twitter exchange comes just as the 2018 fiscal year closes Saturday. Wright State has been trying to correct years of overspending that forced trustees to slash more than $30.8 million from the school’s budget last year.

Earlier this month, trustees approved a budget that projects another $10-million decline in revenue and could result in up to 40 employees being laid off. The number of layoffs could be much lower once attrition is factored in, Schrader has said.

On Friday, Wright State tweeted that Fecher had said the university would add money to its reserve fund and had “turned the corner and expects to end the year financially secure.”

Wright State’s tweet included a meme of actor James McAvoy pumping his fist with the word “SUCCESS!” popping up on the screen. It was re-posted on Wright State President Cheryl Schrader’s Twitter account.

Fecher said he publicly responded to WSU on Twitter because he felt the school’s tweet went too far.

“We have to be factually correct in what we say,” Fecher said. “I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. We still have a long way to go with our finances.”

It’s important, Fecher said, for Wright State and its leaders to be clear about its financial status when it comes to messaging.

“I think that we have an obligation to deliver the correct information,” Fecher said. “Especially if it’s in the public domain like that. We have to be truthful about what we’re talking about.”

This news organization has reached out to a Wright State spokesman with questions about how the school’s social media is handled.

WSU’s total reserves plummeted from $162 million in 2012 to a projected $31 million in 2017, which amounts to a $131 million decline over five years, according to the school’s budget. Even with this year’s surplus, Schrader has set a goal for the university to add another $3 million to reserves by then end of June 2019.

Wright State’s depleted reserves are the main reason the school has been in danger of landing on state fiscal watch.

The state measures every public college’s fiscal health with something called a “Senate Bill 6 score,” an annual rating of 0 to 5. Half the score is based on the school’s reserve fund, essentially how much cash the school has in the bank. The other two factors include a viability score which calculates the university’s ability to service its debts and an income ratio which measures the school’s change in net assets, according to the FY 2018 WSU budget.

Any school that falls below a 1.75 two years in a row is put on notice by the state. Wright State projected its score last year was a .8, meaning one more year below a 1.75 would put the school on fiscal watch. But administrators, including Schrader and chief business officer Walt Branson have said they expect WSU will avoid fiscal watch.

“There has been a turnaround. There has been a surplus,” Fecher said. “But, reserves are not where they need to be…We’re not where we need to be in terms of financial security and that’s the point I was trying to make on Twitter.”