King said the TBR audit, initiated before former President Janice Gilliam announced her June 30 retirement, will show nothing illegal or criminal but poor budget decisions. He said the school’s financial history includes five years of overly optimistic enrollment projections and staffing for the best possible scenarios. He also said reserves were depleted by using funds to balance the budget over the years. The TBR doesn’t meet again until September, but King said he believes the TBR will release the audit before then because of high interest.
“I believe it only has to go before the Audit Committee, not the full board, before it is made public,” TBR Communications Director Rick Locker said by phone July 26.
King, in an interview that day, said that the school was “right sizing” itself with a $5 million cut in the 2017-18 budget, including $2.8 million in operating, travel and equipment budgets and $2.2 million in personnel, mostly non-faculty. He retains the title of executive vice chancellor of TBR but is full-time president at Northeast.
“We’re right sizing,” King said. “There were some optimistic enrollment projections over the past five years.” He said the audit has been delayed, in part, because of the retirement of long-time chief auditor Tammy Burchett. At a NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership earlier this month, King said he plans to be here a while. King said he hopes to attend future NETWORKS meetings and is leasing a house in the Fall Branch area and may be here well into 2018.
“I didn’t realize dark could be so dark,” King said of his rural setting. “I’ve enjoyed the area so far.” He said he’s becoming acquainted with the cities and towns in the region.
“If you look on my business card, it doesn’t say interim president. It says president,” King said, adding that he is basically in charge of determining when the search should begin and wants to get more right sizing done before starting a search.
“That will ultimately be my call when we are ready to do that. I don’t think that’s going to be in the immediate future. It may not even be this year,” King said.
Locker said an extended interim president is not abnormal. An interim at Tennessee State University in Nashville stayed about a year.
“The expectation is James King is going to be there for the for an indefinite period of time to get finances in order,” Locker said.
As part of an effort to remove negative connotations of a lack of transparency and lack of communications, King scheduled individual meetings with newspaper and television reporters Wednesday and plans to do so again in two or three weeks to give a financial update.
He’s also working with the Faculty Senate, which early this year made a no confidence vote in Gilliam that was followed by a full faculty vote of no confidence. The votes cited over-expansion, unrealistic revenue projections and an “environment of distrust,” among other things.