Morris Brown College’s Options Dry Up

Alan Judd, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 21, 2008

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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. Morris Brown 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 Morris Brown 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, Morris Brown’s future.

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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.

Morris Brown’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 Morris Brown’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 Morris Brown 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.

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The city, too, filed liens to prevent Morris Brown from selling property before making good on its water bills. But the school fell behind on its payment plan when its cash flow dried up, 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

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City officials say they gave Morris Brown plenty of chances. Once a customer defaults on a payment plan, though, the account becomes due in full.

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