DALLAS — Texas must provide $40 million in additional funding for Texas Southern University and improve academic standards to get the financially troubled institution back on its feet after a series of accounting scandals, according to a report from a special committee appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. The 167-page plan, written by James Hooton, a former executive vice chancellor for finance at the Texas A&M University System and longtime Arthur Andersen executive, was submitted to Perry and the Legislative Budget Board.The Houston Chronicle obtained a copy of the report through a special request to the governor’s office and reported key details. In addition to extra funding and higher academic standards, the plan calls for tighter financial controls.To rid TSU of the burden of remedial education, the report recommends transferring that duty to the local community colleges. TSU would continue to accept students without requiring admissions tests or other qualifications, according to the report.Nearly 70% of first-time freshmen arrive on campus without the skills needed to do university-level work, according to the Chronicle. As state officials seek ways to save the university from declining enrollment and eroding credit, Harris County prosecutors are preparing to retry former Texas Southern University president Priscilla Slade after a mistrial last month.State District Court Judge Brock Thomas declared a mistrial when jurors could not reach a verdict after five days of deliberation on charges that Slade violated her fiduciary duty by spending $523,000 of university funds on personal expenses.Slade’s mistrial followed the conviction of former TSU chief financial officer Quentin Wiggins, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for authorizing the expenditures on Slade.Terry Holderman, former internal auditor at TSU, testified that Wiggins took money from interest on the Higher Education Assistance Funds account that had been earmarked for debt service.The outlays included $100,000 in furniture and home decor, and about $60,000 on a high-tech security system for Slade’s $1.3 million home. Slade’s attorney Mike DeGuerin told jurors that those expenses were necessary for Slade to raise funds for the university. The largest historically black university in Texas has been in a tailspin since Slade was fired in May 2006. Perry last summer threatened to place the university in conservatorship but backed off to protect the university’s accreditation.Enrollment this fall is down 15% to 9,544 students, the lowest enrollment in five years. TSU peaked at 11,635 students in 2004.The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that bestows accreditation announced in August that it was investigating the school’s finances and management.Loss of accreditation could cause the federal government to stop providing financial aid to students, state officials said. Most of the university’s students receive need-based Pell grants.“We’re looking it over right now and trying to identify any changes that need to be made to strengthen the report,” said Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle.The $40 million funding boost has already been appropriated by the last legislature and will come from general revenue, Castle said.The threat of default looms over projects such as a parking garage financed by revenue bonds. In the past two years, the university failed to make debt-service payments on time due to a lack of staff.In July, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded TSU’s revenue bond program to Ba3 from Baa3 and kept the university on rating watch for another possible downgrade.
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