After years of being over budget and behind on reports required by state officials, the College of Eastern Utah has finally come out on top.

The central Utah school, criticized in the past for poor fiscal responsibility, is right on schedule to turn in financial reports for the upcoming fiscal year-end and is finding it has a bit of extra cash to spend on some much-needed discretionary items.

"Every single person, including help from other institutions, worked together and we're a lot better for it," said Kevin Walthers, vice president for finance and administration at CEU. He said that in the past three years, the school has collected more revenue than it has paid out in expenses, putting it in an advantageous situation.

Extra funds will go toward a logo redesign, help solve some infrastructure problems, purchase updated classroom supplies for the nursing program and replace an old diesel-fueled bus used to carry athletic teams and students on field trips.

"When compared to schools like Utah State or the U., it's not a lot, but it's helping us turn things into a positive," Walthers said.

What began as a "staffing problem," he said, ended up working in their favor, after the Legislature funded a position for a full-time accountant and job duties were reassigned to various staffers to get things done more efficiently.

"I liken it to a rip tide that just keeps pulling you out further and further until you're past the point of no return," Walthers said. "One person was doing the job of four, and there was no way to do it It was too overwhelming."

By the time Walthers, who was working with the Board of Regents, arrived on campus in 2006, the process for filing financial statements for the year prior hadn't even begun. The new staff was able to make ground quickly, going from having filed only three mandatory reports to getting all 20 or so reported, and they're on schedule for fiscal year '08, which ends in a few weeks.

"We're right on track just like we're supposed to be," Walthers said. Pulling staff members together from both CEU's Blanding and Price campuses also proved to be beneficial, utilizing resources as much as possible.

"We cross-trained and retrained several staff members and pushed a little bit, but every single staff member responded," CEU controller Gina Gagon said. "Everyone contributed in some way to make this a reality."

The extra effort hasn't gone unnoticed by state officials and community members.

Late last month, state audit manager Stan Godfrey told the CEU Board of Trustees that business office staff took charge of a difficult situation and "should be complemented for digging out of the hole."

"The progress CEU has made is impressive," said Dave Buhler, commissioner of higher education in Utah. "We appreciate the coordinated efforts of the staff at CEU and the Commissioner's Office that has resulted in improved accountability and reporting of the college's finances."

Ryan L. Thomas, who recently resigned as president of CEU, helped to bring the struggling school from a $1.9 million deficit to a $200,000 surplus. The process required multiple administrative moves and difficult decisions to cut budgets and eliminate positions. Walthers said some celebration is due, but with this fiscal year ending June 30, CEU officials plan to keep the ball rolling in the right direction.

"We've raised the bar and now need to make this the expected standard," he said. He hopes the good news will help increase enrollment numbers at CEU.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com