UMC-affiliated Lon Morris College in financial turmoil

Lon Morris College, a two-year, United Methodist-affiliated school in Jacksonville, Tex., announced Wednesday the furlough of most employees due to an ongoing financial crisis.

The nearby Tyler Morning Telegraph  quoted a Lon Morris College trustee as saying the school’s president, Miles McCall, submitted his resignation.

The East Texas school has been unable to meet three recent payrolls and is working with Bridgepoint Consulting to restructure and find a way to pay creditors and employees and continue operating.

According to the Tyler paper, a notice sent to employees said those living in campus housing would have to move, and employees also were informed they would be losing health insurance and would have to turn in school-owned equipment.

The notice spoke of termination but a trustee told the Tyler paper employees had been furloughed. The paper also quoted a school spokesman as saying 11 employees remained on staff and that the goal is to rehire other employees for fall semester. Summer school has been cancelled.

Jack Brooks, a longtime music instructor, confirmed that he and colleagues have missed their last three paychecks. He said he has been getting by better than most, since he has a part-time position with a Presbyterian church, and his wife works. But they’ve had to cut expenses, and he’s found himself, at age 61, looking for another job.

“I did something I have never done in 61 years,” he said. “I went and filed for unemployment. It was a miserable experience. They were very nice, but it was miserable.”

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie and a number of UM clergy in the Texas Conference asked conference churches to take up a one-time special offering for Lon Morris College. The goal is to raise enough to meet one payroll, about $250,000.

“A lot of our ministers went to school there,” said Paula Arnold, communications director for the conference. “We’re concerned about the employees.”

Bishop Huie has been assured by Bridgepoint Consulting that funds raised to meet the payroll will only be used for that purpose, Ms. Arnold added.

Ms. Arnold said that in 2007 the Texas Conference co-signed for a $1 million loan to Lon Morris College from the Heartspring Methodist Foundation.

She said the conference “remains responsible for that loan in the case of non-payment by Lon Morris College. The loan is outstanding and no notice of intent for non-payment has been given to Heartspring by Lon Morris College.”

Along with the loan guarantee, Bishop Huie helped the school get a $250,000 loan from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.  The conference also has provided emergency funds to First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Tex., to help meet the needs of school employees who have not been paid.

Gerald Lord, associate general secretary of GBHEM, expressed his concern Thursday in a statement.

“This is a difficult and trying time for the faculty, staff and students of Lon Morris College,” he said. “We have offered our expertise and help with consultants, as well as a loan … We continue to pray for their success. We are grateful for the many United Methodist clergy and lay people that the college has helped educate.”

Lon Morris College has  long had financial troubles A recent annual report for the school noted deficits for five fiscal years, beginning in 2005-2006, with all but one of those years seeing a shortfall in excess of $1 million. An IRS 990 form for the school notes a $2.5 million gap between revenue and expenses for fiscal year 2009-2010, though the annual report puts the deficit at about $1.5 million.

Full-time enrollment was under 400 from 2001 to 2008, but grew to 747 in 2009 and 930 in 2010, according to the annual report. In recent years the school re-started its football program and added an academic program in hospitality administration.

But the Tyler paper quoted one board member as saying the school struggled to finance the infrastructure necessary to handle the growth, and also was hit by a recession-related credit crunch.

The school received a warning last year from its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, for issues including failure to meet financial stability standards.

Lon Morris College, founded in 1854, is the oldest private two-year college in Texas.

According to the Texas State Historical Association website, the school began as the New Danville Masonic Female Academy, near Kilgore, Tex., under the leadership of a Methodist minister named Isaac Alexander. Its complicated history includes a move to Jacksonville and a renaming, in 1924, in honor of A. “Lon” Morris, a Texas banker and Methodist lay preacher who donated to the school.

Famous alumni include country music star K.T. Oslin and Broadway dancing legend Tommy Tune. But Lon Morris also is known for having been the gateway to higher education for numerous United Methodist clergy.

Ted Campbell, a professor at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, is one. Asked about his alma mater’s struggles, he said: “I’m just heartbroken. Lon Morris College has been such a formative institution for so many of us in the United Methodist Church.”

He noted that costs for private schools, particularly for employee health insurance, have risen dramatically, and that private two-year schools face competition for students from cheaper public community colleges.

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I was so sorry to learn of the difficulty Lon Morris is having, and am disappointed that I was not contacted, as an alum, to assist with the situation. I would be happy to send a check of support, if I can have the proper address to send it to.
In the mean time I will surely keep the school in my prayers.
I would also be happy to attempt to contact other alums, if their addresses are available.
Rev. Gerry Harrison
414 614 4009


Thank you Gerry for asking for the address to send funds to…

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the TAC has asked we help Lon Morris catch up on payroll for employees; you may send contributions to:

Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
5215 Main Street
Houston, TX 77002
(713) 521-9383
memo line: "for Lon Morris Payroll"
Rev. David K. Urban, Mt. Zion UMC, Panola, TX

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