For many months, the financial state of California University of Pennsylvania has elicited strong and usually unflattering responses on and off campus.
But on Wednesday night, the topic drew applause.
That's because the school's interim president, Geraldine Jones, announced to a meeting of Cal U's council of trustees that the university will close the books on fiscal year 2012-13 with a $5.8 million surplus.
The audited figures reported were by all accounts a dramatic turnaround -- a swing of nearly $18 million -- for a university that began the year with a projected deficit of $11.8 million. It was achieved by difficult spending cuts in an operating budget that by the end of the fiscal year had been reduced to approximately $111 million.
The school the previous four years balanced its books by dipping into reserves.
Surprise and delight over the figures were evident among board members who had weathered the ouster of the school's former president Angelo Armenti Jr. in May 2012 and a parade of negative publicity before and after his firing.
"This is nothing less than remarkable," trustee Robert Miner Jr. said.
"That's awesome," said fellow board member Annette Ganassi.
"Last year, I reported to trustees that we would examine every aspect of [Cal U's] spending plan with the goal of putting the university's finances in order," Ms. Jones told the board. "We managed to end the year firmly in the black."
She said about $2.3 million of the surplus will be applied to the education and general budget.
"The remaining surplus will be used to replenish plant unrestricted funds for life cycle and deferred maintenance needs, because -- in the past -- these funds were what was used to cover the deficit," she told the board.
Among the beneficiaries of Cal U's improved finances will be the university's new science building, Ms. Jones said. Cal U has managed to put aside $1 million for it and plans to add to that in future years.
The State System of Higher Education offered no explanation for Mr. Armenti's firing. It occurred a day before release of a report by system auditors that questioned certain university financial practices.
Ms. Jones told trustees that Cal U still faces significant challenges.
Cal U's state appropriation, like that of Pennsylvania's 13 other state-owned universities, is 18 percent smaller than it was a few years ago. And enrollment is down by approximately 4 percent this fall, a figure less severe than the enrollment loss of more than 9 percent last year.
Ms. Jones and others said the school will continue to pare spending to bolster the university's financial strength.
In an interview after the board's nearly two-hour meeting Wednesday, Robert Thorn, Cal U's vice president for administration and finance, said the university projects it will end the 2013-14 fiscal year with a surplus of approximately $4 million.
Last week, Ms. Jones announced to the campus that the administration has rescinded a notice of planned faculty layoffs and instead will review its workforce needs to make sure resources match student demand. The move signaled that if job reductions were required this year, they would occur in non-classroom areas.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.