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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU eliminates $30 million deficit, but athletics department still overspends

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 20, 2019, 10:45 p.m.

Washington State University President Kirk Schulz speaks during his first visit to the Pullman campus on April 1, 2016. The university says it’s back in the black after eliminating a $30 million deficit in its main operating budget, though the athletics department continues to overspend. (Geoff Crimmins / AP)
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz speaks during his first visit to the Pullman campus on April 1, 2016. The university says it’s back in the black after eliminating a $30 million deficit in its main operating budget, though the athletics department continues to overspend. (Geoff Crimmins / AP)

Washington State University says it’s back in the black after eliminating a $30 million deficit in its main operating budget, though the athletics department continues to overspend.

The university said it closed the 2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30, with a balance of about $7.8 million, marking the first time it has broken even or had leftover funds since 2013.

The board of regents credited President Kirk Schulz, who started the job in 2016, with a series of proposals aimed at raising donations and reducing spending.

“Our improved financial outlook enables us to continue to fulfill our land grant mission,” Brett Blankenship, the board’s chairman, said in a statement Friday.

WSU has increased revenue by recruiting more international students, while each department was ordered to trim its budget by 2.5%. Other belt-tightening measures included the elimination of a performing arts program.

Before Schulz’s administration implemented its fiscal plan, the university had nearly depleted a reserve fund that once topped $120 million, investing heavily in projects like the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and a branch campus in Everett.

Greg Crouch, a chemistry professor who chairs WSU’s faculty senate, said administrators have taken steps to make the budgeting process more transparent, including the creation of a fiscal health advisory committee that includes faculty members.

“I think pretty much everybody in the university system understood that we had to live within our means,” Crouch said. “I think people understand we were overspending, and we’re trying not to do that anymore.”

The athletics department, meanwhile, continues to spend more money than it takes in – a situation that continues to frustrate many faculty members.

The regents in June approved an operating budget for the department, which is expected to be $103 million in debt by 2022. That’s $17 million more in debt than the university projected last year. The university’s plan to address the debt relies largely on fundraising efforts led by Athletics Director Pat Chun and a 27% increase in department revenue by 2023.

On Friday, the university said the department’s annual operating deficit was about $7.1 million in fiscal 2019, down from about $13.7 million in fiscal 2014. The department is on track to stop overspending by 2024, the university said.

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