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SFA budget woes result of 10-year trends

The widely publicized rift between faculty and staff at Stephen F. Austin State University and its president Dr. Scott Gordon reached a peak last week, weeks after Gordon shared documents detailing how the financial crisis developed.

Gordon’s analysis reveals a 10-year trend of declining enrollment and student credit hours — the primary statistics that drive state appropriations.

The budget was one of three chief concerns expressed by faculty and staff during a series of meetings, Board of Regents chairwoman Karen Gantt said during a special meeting over the weekend. Tensions came to a head after Gordon accepted an $85,000 raise this spring but later returned it. The Faculty Senate issued a vote a no confidence in Gordon, in part due to his acceptance of the raise.

The vote, which also asked Regents to revoke Gordon’s contract, was supported by all heads of all the university’s departments and deans of its six colleges. Regents so far have taken no action in open session but have requested an audit of finances.

From 2011 to 2020, the number of student credit hours provided by SFA dropped from 336,866 to 324,726. Since each credit hour generates about $59.79, the revenue amounts to $689,430.60. That amount is roughly equal to the tuition revenue of 400 full-time students.

That estimate could vary since the state allocation is based on the student’s classification and the level of the course. Post-graduate courses get the highest reimbursement and freshmen-level courses are the lowest. The state uses the lowest available reimbursement rate in the calculation, so freshmen taking upper-level courses or upper classmen taking freshman level courses would both get minimal state funding.

Current enrollment figures offer a glimmer of hope. The number of incoming freshmen is up by 53 students (3.3%), and student credit hours are up 4.1%. Graduate school enrollment also grew by 32 students (2.1%) with a 2.9% increase in student credit hours.

The decline in revenue from state appropriations has been a steady, long-running trend. Another 5 percent decrease is anticipated for the 2022 fiscal year.

Meanwhile, expenses climbed by $59 million from 2011 to 2020, according to Gordon’s documents.

Among those expenses, in the last year SFA has not only had to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, but two one-in-a-lifetime winter storms as well as a near miss from Hurricane Laura.

The pandemic forced the university to refund $9.1 million to students in the spring 2020 semester for housing, meals and fees for services that had to be canceled because of COVID-19.

Each round of federal aid that ostensibly was being given to overcome hardships from COVID had limitations that prevented the funds from being used in the same ways the earned revenue would.

SFA received $10.5 million from the federal coronavirus recovery package, but $5.2 million had to be awarded to students as emergency aid. The remaining $5.2 million was split with $2.6 going to classroom technology upgrades and $2.6 million to support the fiscal year 2021 budget.

Gordon also identified an estimated $3.5 million in higher expenditures for retiree insurance, software, adjunct faculty and summer school upfront expenses.

Given the financial impact many Texas families have felt throughout the pandemic, the effects of COVID-19 on enrollment may continue to be seen at SFA in the coming semesters.

Gordon reported that the staff furlough allowed SFA to recapture $1.44 million from the revenue shortfall and another $15 million from the third round of American Rescue Fund allocations.

A series of town hall meetings is planned throughout the current academic year to keep students, faculty, staff and the community updated on university finances.


Josh Edwards/The Daily Sentinel

Racks BBQ and Catering co-owner Russell Wright delivers pulled pork to the kitchen at the county expo center during a benefit fundraiser for Nacogdoches police Sgt. Al Patterson who is recovering from COVID-19. See more photos on Page 4A


Coronavirus
Vital therapy may be delayed because of distribution change

Active COVID-19 cases continued to climb at record levels this week as state officials announced possible delays in receiving supplies for the local monoclonal antibody infusion center.

Patients who remain contagious were at 778 Friday morning, up from 664 a week ago and 745 Wednesday. Fifty-one COVID-19 patients were hospitalized here Friday morning, with 18 in intensive care.

Health care officials have credited antibody infusions with keeping hospitals from becoming totally overwhelmed, but a shortage of therapeutics and a change in distribution methods could hinder the fight against the virus.

This week federal officials transitioned how the drugs are being distributed. Previously sites like the one in Nacogdoches could directly order from distributers. Now, all monoclonal antibody therapeutics must be supplied though the state.

“The new federal distribution plan may cause delays in treatment; however the Texas Division of Emergency Management, operators of the Regional Infusion Center in Nacogdoches, assures local officials that every effort is being made to maintain sufficient supply of the therapeutic drugs to continue services,” state emergency management officials said in a press release.

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that stimulate the immune system to fight against the virus.

Nacogdoches ISD superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo on Wednesday told members of Nacogdoches Rotary Club that he had been treated at the infusion center after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I did have COVID and I’m completely beyond it,” Trujillo said. “It made me feel completely different within 24 hours.”

The infusion center opened here in August. For the treatment to be effective, health experts say, it must be started within 10 days of the onset of symptoms.

Public officials around the nation have said the vast majority of those hospitalized from the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus are unvaccinated. The same is true for Nacogdoches County, local health care officials have said.

Around 53% of Nacogdoches County residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Just shy of 43% are fully vaccinated. To find out more information about vaccines and providers visit tinyurl.com/vacnac.

Shot clinics are scheduled for every Friday at the C.L. Simon Recreation Center, 1112 North St., though the end of October, Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger said.

The city and county on Monday announced a partnership with HealthTrackRx to launch a temporary COVID-19 testing site at the county expo center, 3805 NW Stallings Drive. Drive-thru testing will be available at no cost to the patient as early as Wednesday.

The site will operate seven days a week from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. Appointments are encouraged and can be made by selecting a day and time in the online portal at https://bit.ly/testatngs.

There is no out of pocket expense for the testing, however insured patients are asked to bring their insurance card so HealthTrackRx may file and be reimbursed for offering the testing service.

The PCR test, also called a molecular test, is conducted with a nasal swab while the patient remains in the car. Results can be expected within 24 hours.

The testing site will remain open through Sept. 30. COVID-related questions can be directed to 936-468-4787.


Local
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Allen West invokes spirit of Texas heroes at Millard's Crossing event

Allen West drew a full house of true believers Tuesday to the Rebellion Barn at Millard’s Crossing for an event hosted by Nacogdoches Conservative Watch. West is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the 2022 primary.

West’s campaign platform focuses on individual freedoms, rule of law, border security, reducing the burden of property taxes, curtailing foreign influence and election integrity.

Mindful of the setting for Tuesday’s event, West invoked the memory of several of the heroes of the Texas Revolution, pointed out that spirit of Texas is not dependent on being a native Texan.

“Texas is about the spirit of liberty, the spirit of freedom,” West said. “Texas is the only state in these United States of America that fought and won its independence all by itself. That’s something that we must come to understand, and we must protect the sovereignty of this incredible great Texas Republic.”

West was raised in Georgia and graduated from the University of Tennessee.

He pointed out that Tennessee didn’t choose a lion, tiger or bear as their mascot. They’re Volunteers, in recognition of the 1,500 troopers that fought under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, and their reputation for volunteering was cemented by the men that came to Texas to fight in the 1830s.

West urged today’s Texans to fight to protect Texas sovereignty. He cited John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence reminding the audience that the United States was created by free and independent states — not the other way around.

West urged Texans to educate themselves, go out on the battlefield and actively support constitutional conservatism. Otherwise, cultural Marxism and progressive Socialism will prevail, West believes.

Securing the border is vital to protecting Texas’ sovereignty and said that by failing to protect Texas and other border states from “invasion”, the federal government is failing its constitutional duty. He blames illegal immigration for a wide range of problems impacting Texas, from illegal narcotics to the coronavirus.

West believes the National Guard needs the power to arrest and deport those illegally entering Texas.

For the constitutional conservative movement to succeed, West appealed to supporters to come together in local groups to support candidates for city council and school board — not just the high profile elections.

West also would like to see property taxes replaced with some sort of consumption tax.

“When you look at the growth of the state government, there are many places where we can find redundancies repetitive and duplicative programs and agencies, and we can find those savings and we can put that toward the property tax,” West said. “You can pay off your land, you can pay off your mortgage, but you can never own your home. And, to me, that is a complete violation of what, John Locke talked about: life, liberty and property. Those are your natural rights.”

“I think a great thing that we can look at, get some really smart economists in the room, give them some pizza, give them a little sunlight and tell them let’s figure out how we can transition to a consumption-based tax to a fair tax so that people can eventually own their own homes here in Texas.”


Local
Night out with friends ends in life-changing crash for two Nac residents

Courtney Herring feels lucky to be alive.

The 25-year-old Nacogdoches woman was a passenger on a motorcycle that was struck by an SUV on Sept. 4.

She and the driver of the 2020 Honda remain in a Tyler hospital recovering from serious injuries.

The crash occurred around 11:50 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4, on U.S. 59, just south of CR 5021 between Woodland Hills Golf Club and Lugnutz Bar and Grill.

After preliminary investigation, DPS investigators said that the motorcycle was traveling north in the outside lane and was slowing down to turn right into the entrance of a private business when an unknown SUV failed to control speed and struck the motorcycle on its right side.

Both the driver and passenger were thrown from the motorcycle. The driver of the SUV fled and has not been found.

Garid Thomas, 27, of Nacogdoches, the motorcycle driver, and Herring initially were taken to Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital with serious injuries.

Both victims needed intensive care, and the two Nacogdoches hospitals already had 26 patients in ICU units meant to care for 22.

Tommy McClure, a close friend of Thomas, was just two feet away when the crash occurred. McClure had just entered the driveway of LugNutz when he saw the vehicle hit Thomas’ motorcycle.

McClure and Thomas have been friends since they met up at a Harley dealership and quickly learned they had a lot in common, including their military service. Thomas served in the Army and McClure served in the Marine Corps.

The two men have been active with many fundraisers and community groups as members of the Warrior Brotherhood Motorcycle Club. Now, McClure and others are rallying together to help their injured friends recover from this life-altering crash.

The group of friends met Saturday at Frogs to play pool. McClure said they were glad to finally be able to get together because the two men work opposite schedules and McClure’s motorcycle had been in the shop for about three weeks.

They left the sports bar on North Street and headed to Lugnutz where another friend works as the manager. Herring opted to ride with Thomas for the 8.3 mile trip since it is more comfortable, according to McClure.

“We went over the crossover. You have to turn around and head back north to get to Lugnutz. Something just told me to ride the shoulder and I did,” McClure said. “Garid was next to me and turned with me.”

After seeing the impact, McClure said he quickly put the kickstand down and heard himself screaming, “No.” He feared both his friends were dead.

Two other members of the group, Heather Matlock and Dusty King, turned to McClure for advice on how to assist the two victims.

McClure used his belt to control the bleeding from Garid’s femoral artery — something he learned in his Marine Corps training. Bystanders gathered up four belts to use as tourniquets and he used one on Herring’s right arm.

He kept talking to Thomas in an effort to keep him from losing consciousness. McClured encouraged his friend to focus on seeing his two daughters again.

Courtney was delirious and complaining of pain. Witnesses immediately saw that her lower right leg had been amputated in the impact. She suffered a number of other injuries as well.

Both victims were transferred to UT-Tyler by medical helicopter.

Herring credits Heather Matlock and Rodney Robison for her survival. Matlock was at the crash scene and laid down beside her in the highway to comfort her until she was loaded into the ambulance.

Robinson, an emergency medical technician, “called every helicopter company he could to fly us out to Tyler,” Herring said. She describes Robinson as the father of her ex, and was concerned he might have faced some disciplinary action at work for his efforts.

“He definitely deserves a reward,” she said. “That was not his job to do, but he made sure we got taken care of ASAP and I’m truly grateful for that.”

The outpouring of support she has received since the crash has been overwhelming, she added.

“I want people to take some kind of note of this terrible incident and be careful out there. Life is too short and precious. We could have died,” she said.

“Drinking and driving is not okay and I’m glad WE were not drunk. And if I was that driver, I would have stopped,” Herring said.

“I’m just super grateful to still be alive and get a new perspective on life with one leg now and I have my one-legged friend to do it with. I really want to give a shout out to my heroes. I will find a way to reward them somehow once I get out of the hospital,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Herring was able to move into a wheelchair with assistance.

Thomas was moved out of ICU Monday after undergoing multiple surgeries. He suffered multiple open fractures. His right leg was amputated below the knee and future operations are likely.

McClure said Thomas also had a tension pneumothorax, a severe chest injury that compromises cardiac function and occurs when blood and air are trapped in surrounding tissue. Doctors also said he had a pierced liver and lost a substantial amount of blood.

An online fundraising effort can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/2yd485xx

A GoFundMe account has been established to help with Courtney Herring’s expenses. Visit https://tinyurl.com/44p97mrh if you would like to help.

The Texas Highway Patrol investigation is continuing and evidence gathered at the scene is being processed. Anyone who can help investigators identify the hit-and-run driver should call 936-634-5553 or Crime Stoppers at 936-560-4636.

Crime Stoppers will pay a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of a felony suspect. Callers remain anonymous and do not have to testify in court.


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