Senator Donzella James was one of many graduates who spoke during "A Day of Prayer" vigil at Morris Brown College on Saturday, August 25, 2012 to raise awareness and money for the school, which is facing foreclosure if it cannot come up with $13 million by Sept. 4.
Morris Brown College, which has been reeling from serious financial hardships for more than a decade – and is on the verge of a foreclosure – has not paid its employees in three months.
Some staff members are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in accumulated back pay from an even longer period, and graduates come back to clean the school because nobody is being paid to do it.
Chemistry professor Gloria L. Anderson, for example, is owed $204,585, according to recently filed court documents.Toledo Riley, the director of recruitment and admissions, is owed $171,000. Hector Butts, who chairs the business administration department, is due $163,000. Vice president of student affairs Vivian El-Amin is awaiting $142,000.
“I knew it was a substantial amount of money, but I had not looked at my records,” said Jacqueline Pollard, the vice president of institutional advancement, “So I really don’t know how much I am owed.” The school owes her $205,000.
They were on a list of the college’s 20 largest unsecured claims it filed in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in an attempt to stave off foreclosure proceedings.
According to the documents, the school also owes several utility companies, including $1.9 million to Georgia Power; $97,000 to Atlanta’s water department, and $55,000 to Georgia Natural Gas. It owes Woodruff Library, which all of the colleges in the Atlanta University Center share, $2.4 million.
Morris Brown is more than $30 million in debt to at least 200 creditors. The debt includes $13 million in bonds issued in 1996 through the Fulton County Development Authority, payment on which creditors are moving to get via foreclosure. When the bonds were issued, college officials used property as collateral. Earlier this month, the school was informed several pieces of property including the administration building would be auctioned off on Sept. 4.
According to Fulton County tax records, the 131-year-old school owns 20 parcels on campus. The total fair market value of the parcels – many of which are boarded up, abandoned or burned out — is $33,583,400.
“The Chapter 11 should prevent the foreclosure, because it is an automatic stay,” said Ann Aaronson, an attorney for Morris Brown. “We are hoping to work out an agreement with the bondholders to resolve their debt. And we would like to do so as quickly as possible.
Along with the financial woes, the school has not been accredited in 10 years.
“This gives them time to take a global look at their situation,” Aaronson said. “We are hoping this gives Morris Brown the ability to get their affairs in order and move forward successfully.”
According to its petition, the school incurs approximately $100,000 a month in payroll expenses. The last time anyone was paid was June 11, for the pay period that ended May 30.
Morris Brown “estimates that … approximately $3.2 million in pre-petition accrued wages, salaries, bonuses and other compensation earned … remains unpaid,” the document stated.
Aside from not being paid, the staff and faculty are stretched thin. Only 17 staffers, including vice presidents and their support staffs, remain on campus. There are only five full-time faculty members and 16 part-timers. Only two people handle maintenance on the entire campus – a point stressed this weekend when several alumni mentioned that they have cut the grass and cleaned the toilets.
Yet, the faculty and staff still come to work.
“It depends on your commitment and dedication to the college,” Pollard said. “I have faith that I will receive my money. I don’t know when, but I will get it.”