Originally created 11/08/97

Tech's deficit changes perspective



SAVANNAH -- The state's agreement to take Savannah Technical Institute out of the school board's hands seemed like a pretty good deal until this week when the board discovered it had been left holding Tech's $500,000 deficit.

Savannah-Chatham County school board members thought they were free of all obligations -- financial and otherwise -- to Savannah Tech. They relinquished control of the school to the state in July.

Under the terms of the agreement the board paid $520,000 for Savannah Tech's 1997-98 operating budget and the Georgia Department of Adult Education agreed to take administrative control.

They failed, however, to address the issue of Savannah Tech's bills, and now the board is stuck with them.

"We were left holding the empty bag," said board member Mary Ellen Sprague. Tech President Don Stewart informed the board about the $500,000 deficit during a board meeting held before the deal was done.

He thought that the college could get out of the hole once Pell Grant money was collected from the federal government, school system official Jack Wardlaw said, but now it doesn't look like that's going to happen and the board is legally responsible for Tech's outstanding debts up to June 30.

"What's done is done and we need to clear it out and close out the books," said Mr. Wardlaw, the schools chief financial officer. "We've already paid out those bills and we have to balance the books." But a majority of the board decided that they would rather let the deficit sit than adjust its books for bills that they never intended Savannah Tech to generate.

"We got taken hook, line and sinker," board member Billy Knight said.