Brown College endured the embezzlement conviction of its president. It weathered losing its accreditation and the ability to obtain student financial aid. It kept going even as enrollment, once close to 3,000, plummeted to a paltry 56.
Now MorrisBrown must try to save itself again.
This time, it may not make it.Without loans to cover $1.5 million in critical bills, the 127-year-old historically black college won't reopen next month for the spring semester, school officials said Saturday. MorrisBrown lacks money to pay faculty and staff salaries, utilities and other operating expenses, acting president Stanley Pritchett said.The school's longstanding financial troubles intensified last week, when the city of Atlanta shut off water service to the campus off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the Atlanta University Center.
The city said MorrisBrown owes about $380,000 in water bills, some dating to 2004. When the school fell behind on a payment plan to reduce the debt, the city cut off the water --- and, perhaps, MorrisBrown's future.
The campus simply cannot reopen unless the water comes back on, Pritchett said. "You've got to have basic services."
It would be an ignominious end to a school that boasts of being the only Georgia higher-education institution created by African-Americans. The college's alumni include military officers, actors, authors and civil rights leaders such as the late Hosea Williams.
MorrisBrown's reputation was tarnished earlier this decade when a federal investigation led to criminal charges against former President Dolores Cross and former financial aid director Parvesh Singh.
Both pleaded guilty in 2006, admitting they acquired millions of dollars in federal loans and grants in the names of students who did not exist. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had revoked MorrisBrown's accreditation in 2002.
Short-term loan sought
School officials are scheduled to meet with bankers on Monday, hoping to secure a short-term loan, said Rhonda Copenny, a MorrisBrown trustee. The college continues to work on a long-term restructuring of its $32 million debt.
Without "bridge financing, " Copenny said, the school is no more than three weeks away from closing permanently.
Even with a short-term cash infusion, the college faces tough obstacles, court records indicate. Contractors have filed several liens over unpaid bills.
A real estate broker hired to arrange commercial development on campus has put in a $230,000 lien. A plumbing company that had already filed a $116,000 lien escalated the case by suing the school Dec. 17.
The city, too, filed liens to prevent MorrisBrown from selling property before making good on its water bills. But the school fell behind on its payment plan when its cash flow driedup, Pritchett said.
On Dec. 12, the last day of the fall semester, city officials told the school to pay the full $380,000 immediately or they would terminate water service, Pritchett said. City workers turned off the spigots Dec. 15.
Appeal made to city
Pritchett said he has appealed for leniency from Mayor Shirley Franklin and has talked with two of her aides, "but as of this date, I have not been able to get any kind of flexibility in resolving it."
City officials say they gave MorrisBrown plenty of chances. Once a customer defaults on a payment plan, though, the account becomes due in full. "The city doesn't renegotiate, " said Janet Ward, a spokeswoman for the Watershed Management Department.
Franklin's spokeswoman, Beverly Isom, said, "This problem has been apparent for some time. I don't think it's because they don't have water that MorrisBrown has financial problems."
This potentially fatal blow comes as MorrisBrown has begun something of a rebirth. Last spring, the General Assembly allowed the school to begin accepting students who receive the state's HOPE scholarship. Enrollment this fall more than doubled to about 240.
"The institution has been a major part of the landscape of this community, " Pritchett said, "and it certainly deserves to remain a viable part of the community."