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Letter to the editor: Figures do lie

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In the April 3 edition of The State Journal, Marshall Washington, president of New River Community and Technical College, implied that I, Kenneth A. Culp, provided false and misleading information to the Journal about the massive losses at the college.

While it is true that I provided The State Journal with information about the college, all of it came directly from Mr. Washington. I, however, had no input into the article and have just today seen the articles published in this newspaper.

Having said that, I stand by my position that the college receives 82 percent of its funding directly from the taxpayers, amounting to over $18 million per year and projected to increase to $23 million by 2017. The college writes off over 60 percent of all revenues that are billed to students and this money is never collected. To my way of thinking, this is just bad management. No private company could survive writing off 60 percent of its revenues. Of the remaining 40 percent, which the college does collect, virtually all of that is covered by “Student Financial Aid.” The net effect is that the college collects no money directly from the students.

In 2014 the college is going to spend another $12 million of taxpayer money to build new facilities in Beckley. Because of the way this money is accounted for, none of it ever shows up as an expense to the college (i.e. the losses are larger than reported). Who knows how much more money the college has received in this manner over the years that has not been reported as an expense of the college?

According to the financial projections of the college, the taxpayer funding for 2014 is projected as follows (rounded to the nearest $1,000):

  •  Federal Contracts & Grants — $2,541,000
  • State Contracts & Grants — $2,894,000
  • State Appropriations — $5,407,000
  • Restricted State Appropriations — $500,000
  • Federal Pell Grants — $7,210,000
  • New Campus building in Beckley — $12,000,000
  • State Capital Payments — $632,000
  • Total Taxpayer Funds — $31,184,000

I challenge Mr. Washington to refute these figures as they were prepared by Suttle and Stalnaker, CPAs from information provided by the college. Frankly, I do not know what the “Contracts & Grants” are, but the footnotes to the financial statements state “Government grants and contracts normally provide for the recovery of direct and indirect costs, subject to audit” (i.e. taxpayer money). The Pell Grants are also taxpayer money that comes from the federal government.

According to the college’s own figures, the graduation rates fell from 14 percent in 2009 to 9 percent in 2013. I don’t know how these numbers are calculated, but a 14 percent graduation rate is appalling. On top of this, less than 50 percent of those students who do graduate get a job in their field of study. Mr. Washington says that these figures, which the college provided, are misleading. However, he has failed to support that claim. He also stated that we shouldn’t look at the losses of the college but rather should be looking at the “net position” of the college. What taxpayers really need to look at is how much taxpayer money is being spent by this college and are the results worth the money. The taxpayers are projected to spend over $31 million in 2014 with lousy results, as reported above. Why are we throwing taxpayer money away on such a failed program? We could serve six times more students by giving $20,000 per year to 1,000 students to go to school anywhere they choose!

Now, the college wants to waste another $13 million in taxpayer money to build a new campus at Glade Creek Business Park in Nicholas County. They plan to lease/purchase 55 acres in the park, of which they plan to use 13 acres to build a 48,000 square foot facility. The college and the Nicholas County Building Commission refuse to disclose what the college plans to do with the remaining 42 acres. Why? The college and the Building Commission also refuse to disclose the proposed terms of this sale. Why? What do they have to hide? The 55 acres that the college is leasing will take up virtually all of the prime commercial property in the park. This Business Park was funded with taxpayer money to develop private businesses that would create real jobs (as opposed to more taxpayer funded government jobs) and increase the tax base in the county. The college will pay no property taxes because it is owed by the state.

Mr. Washington bragged that the college has obtained $300,000 per year in state appropriations to pay down the loan. However, once again, this is taxpayer money. With the national debt, including the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, amounting to $1.9 million for each and every family of four, we can no longer afford to (waste) more taxpayer money on wasteful projects like this one. The federal government now spends over $50,000 per year for each and every family of four. Think about that. They spend more than the average family earns. It is our children and grandchildren who will be burdened with this crushing debt. Therefore, I challenge all those who support this project, including the Nicholas County Commission, the City of Summersville, the Nicholas County Building Commission and Mr. Washington, to put their money where their mouth is: If this project results in losses to the taxpayers that they guarantee to personally reimburse the taxpayers for said losses.

Kenneth Culp
Nicholas County