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Cal U finishes year with slight surplus, challenges remain, interim president says

| Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 12:12 p.m.
Interim California University of Pennsylvania President Geraldine M. Jones (left) and GACO director Deborah S. Wojcik with a check from the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

Just a year since she took the helm at California University of Pennsylvania, interim President Geraldine M. Jones on Thursday announced the school has erased an $11.8 million deficit and ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a surplus.

Jones said it marks the first time in five years the university has ended the year with a balanced budget.

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the university's faculty and staff convocation, Jones said she is rescinding a retrenchment letter sent to faculty this year and invited the university community to participate in a workforce development plan she hopes to finalize by the end of the semester.

The plan will reallocate staff and resources to “programs students want and need.”

Over the last year, Jones said, the university reduced discretionary spending, shortened its lease at the Southpointe complex in Washington County and cut costs by leaving vacancies unfilled and furloughing managers, among other measures.

The university's enrollment declined by more than 9 percent last year and it's facing a preliminary decline of 3.86 percent this year, so it still faces challenges, she said. Freshman enrollment, which has yet to reach 2011 levels, is another positive indicator. It rose 26 percent this year, she said.

“To secure Cal U's future, we must align payroll, programs and services with resources,” she said, adding that faculty reductions would be a last resort.

Jones, who spent four decades at the university before being named interim president, “hit a home run,” said Michael Slavin, president of the university's faculty union.

“She met my challenge to focus on academics,” Slavin said. “I expect big things. I see her on the right track.”

Matt Stonebrook, 20, of Murrysville, a junior, said he knew things were not looking good when Jones took over as president.

“To erase the deficit that quickly, it seems like she's doing a good job,” he said.

Just how long Jones will remain in office is unclear. She was named interim president last spring after the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education fired former President Angelo Armenti in May 2012.

The State System Board of Governors has yet to form a search committee to seek a permanent replacement for Armenti.

Asked whether she would take the job on a permanent basis, Jones said she would.

One day after Armenti was fired, the State System, which oversees California and 13 other state-owned universities, issued an audit highly critical of the school's financial practices, many relating to the $59 million convocation center.

The school this week severed its five-year contract with the convocation center's manager, saying the move would save $300,000 this year.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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