Quarter of a million dollar gift added to Paine’s financial woes, admits it’s time to live within its means

United Methodist Church makes pledge to Paine.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Paine College received another hefty donation that will help in its fight to win back its accreditation before schools begins in the fall.

The church’s Division of Higher Education and Ministry gave $250,000.  Reverend James Cason, the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Statesboro, said when they heard Paine did not have money budget to improve living quarters for students, they decided to invest.  He said some of those funds will go to the operating budget. Friday’s contribution is part of $8,752,436.00 that the church has donated in the past ten years.  Rev. Cason said that’s because the United Methodist Church and CME church both started Paine together.

“In Augusta, Georgia, in the heart of the Deep South, only 17 years after the Civil War, the sons of former slave owners and the sons of former slaves came together to create Paine College,” Rev. Cason said.

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For months now we’ve been trying to figure out how Paine fell into financial despair and what the school needs to do to get out of it. We now have those answers on a day where another major donation is pledged to keep the school’s legacy.

“An additional gift today of $250,000,” Rev. Cason told the small group of press conference attendees on the second floor of the Candler Memorial Library.

The bank account is building for Paine College.  This time it is thanks to the United Methodist Church.

“Part of this money is to be used to refurbish dormitories and the student center,” Rev. Cason added.

The other part will go to this year’s operating fund and Paine’s Board Chairman, Attorney Michael Thurmond, tells me it’s expected to total $15 million, enough for the school to prove to SACS it’s financially sound in hopes of appealing the accreditation status.

“You have to maintain a balanced budget and you have to live within your revenues,” Atty. Thurmond said during an interview following the announcement.

“So, you were just spending crazy?” I asked of Paine’s previous spending.

He replied, “We were spending more than we were taking in and that was the Genesis of the problem.”

A problem Thurmond said has been fixed, not just with tightening their belt, but major employee cuts at the school and more could come.

“We have fewer employees now than what we had two years ago,” he said.

“Will there be more cuts to staff in the future?” I questioned to after he told me many employees were cut in December.

“We are going to do whatever is necessary to balance the budget,” he replied.

“Is that a yes?” I pressed.

“We are going to do whatever is necessary to balance the budget,” he said.

The historically black college received 4000 freshman applications for the upcoming fall semester.  This is good news since SACS needs to see student dollars for financially sound revenue.

“Paine is a tuition driven institution. It’s a huge mistake to live off donations and SACS actually frowns upon that,” he said assuring that the school does not expect to continue supporting itself on the various donations.

David Jackson is one of the admissions counselors who put in the work to get thousands to apply.

“Calling students. Sending emails,” he said.

He added after a lot of talking and tours, students bought into Paine being a tight-knit community where they could succeed.

They ask about accreditation and things of that sort, we are honest with them, transparent. Just letting them know what we are dealing with. This is what you will be facing as a student, but nonetheless, Paine is going to work through this and you’re going to be a successful student in the end,” Jackson said.

Thurmond said of those four thousand freshman apps, 1250 is the target to be accepted. Those students, plus the ones who are returning, will give Paine the revenue it needs to survive long-term.  The key, he said, is to live within its means.

The school is set for an appeal hearing with SACS August 15-17 in Atlanta.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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