As it has from the beginning, the United Methodist Church stepped forward Friday with $250,000 for Paine College to help the struggling school in its fight for financial stability and to maintain its accreditation.
A church official called on all in the community to help preserve a school uniquely founded on racial unity.
“Let me just remind you that in Augusta, Ga., in the heart of the Deep South, and only 17 years after the end of the Civil War, that the sons of former slave owners and the sons of former slaves came together to create Paine College,” said the Rev. Jimmy Cason, the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Statesboro, Ga. “It is imperative, particularly in the Augusta community, that the white community and the black community continue to work together to maintain the legacy of Paine College.”
The predominantly white United Methodist Church helped found Paine with the predominantly black Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in what some believe was the first such meeting of its kind in the area where blacks and whites came together as equals, said Michael Thurmond, the chairman-elect of Paine’s board.
“Beyond the money today, the reaffirmation of support from the United Methodist Church is critical in helping to re-energize that partnership in Augusta and to bring focus and attention to the historic nature of that partnership,” Thurmond said.
Last month, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges voted to remove Paine from its membership after it found that the college did not meet three financial standards even after two years of probation. Paine is appealing that decision, and because of the rules of the appeal, it will be able to provide new evidence of financial improvement.
The school remains accredited while the appeal is pending, which is required for the school to participate in federal programs such as student financial aid. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Aug. 15, 16 or 17, school officials said. A decision will be made seven days after that, according to SACS rules.
There is evidence the school is doing better financially, Cason said. He read from a letter from the UMC’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry that said the agency was “encouraged by the progress that has been made.” It cited “a reduction of indebtedness, an increase in net assets, a positive balance sheet for (the past school year), a balanced budget (for the upcoming school year), and successful fundraising.”
Paine President Samuel Sullivan said he is often asked for a number that the school needs to raise to satisfy SACS but said the accrediting agency doesn’t give schools a number.
“It is not a number so much we need to be able to impress SACS. It’s the fact that we can say we have a balanced budget, that we are growing our net assets, that we are able to pay our bills, we’re able to do things that any thriving business that stays in
business is going to have to do,” he said.
The UMC has given the school more than $8.7 million since 2006 and about $1.2 million in the past year, Cason said. Part of the
money donated Friday will be used to upgrade dorms and the student center, he said.
Sullivan said this shows “the rebound of Paine College and the rebirth of our school and the refreshing of our school.” As a board member for 12 years, Cason said, he sees a re-emergence of the school.
“There is a change of attitude and spirit on the board,” he said. “I’m excited because I see the changes taking place. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we’re not able to undo everything overnight. The best days are still yet to be.
“We believe that we have made progress, and we believe that we will be successful in our appeal to SACS.”