August 20, 2019 11:14:16 AM
On Monday, Oktibbeha County supervisors joined their Lowndes County counterparts in calling for an audit of East Mississippi Community College, which has blown through almost all of what was an $11 million primary reserve fund over the past 10 years.
Although both counties provide limited direct funds for the community college, both have made substantial commitments to EMCC's Communiversity -- $10 million from Lowndes County and $2.5 million from Oktibbeha County. Supervisors are concerned that those funds are used for their intended purpose and does not disappear into the black hole which has consumed almost $10 million over the past decade.
The state auditor's office said it will conduct the audit requested by the counties, but points out that every community college in the state is audited each year.
Given that, it's doubtful that a new audit will uncover any malfeasance, which is the purpose of audits. But calling for an audit does, at the minimum, exert pressure on EMCC, its leadership and board of trustees to make some necessary changes, something it has obviously failed to do over the past decade.
Even trustees are unsure of exactly where to place the blame, pointing out that it appears budgeted funds are moved from one department to another without explanation.
What is certain is that EMCC has spent beyond its means and has been doing that for quite a while.
During the past decade, EMCC has purchased Lion Hill Center and golf course and built new student unions on both campuses, even as enrollment declined. The Communiversity and two dormitories in Scooba are other components of the school's ambitious capital expendatures plan.
In retrospect, it's easy to criticize those large expenses. But there is little to be done now. You cannot unbuild student unions and the prospects of selling Lion Hills for anything close to what EMCC paid are poor.
But there are areas that demand serious attention.
The school's spending on athletics -- more than $2 million last year alone -- is certainly something that warranted a critical eye, despite the football team's unprescidented success. Athletics at community colleges have limited benefits to the school and should be kept in proper perspective.
EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks, who arrived in January, vows to make the necessary changes, a commitment trustees from Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties share.
The audit may not reveal any smoking gun, but it will hold EMCC leadership's feet to the fire.
Something has to change and has to change quickly.