Sweet Briar Move-in

Sweet Briar senior Grace Culley (left) and her sister Alexis moving Culley into her dorm room on campus in this August 2015 file photo.

Sweet Briar College doesn’t need to lean heavily on its endowment to make ends meet this year, Teresa Pike Tomlinson, chairwoman of the college’s board of directors, said Tuesday following the body’s unanimous adoption of a budget at this weekend’s meeting on campus.

The budget for the current fiscal year accounts for $31.8 million in revenue and $29.5 million in expenses, with the difference to serve as a contingency fund.

The school plans to take just $3.5 million from its now roughly $70 million endowment for operating expenses. That’s 5 percent, the lowest rate of draw from the endowment the college has approved in years.

“It’s the most fiscally prudent budget we’ve had in 10 years,” Tomlinson said.

She explained the school is in a position to pass for now on an option to use up to $16 million in previously restricted funds from its endowment — an option offered by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring as part of a deal brokered in June to save the school and secure the resignations of prior leaders.

“I think [using the $16 million] was crucial [only] if you accepted the false premises of the prior administration,” she said, arguing there is room for more efficient management of the college’s finances than what she said has been practiced in recent years.

The option, she said, is there for the college if needed in the future.

Back in March, former president James Jones announced plans to close the school, citing what he and other leaders called insurmountable financial challenges.

Amid a legal fight over the future of the college, Herring’s office worked out an agreement between then-administrators who were trying to close the school and a group of alumnae and allies trying to keep it open.

One of the key terms of the agreement was that Herring would take away restrictions on up to $16 million in previously restricted funds in the school’s endowment on the condition the alumnae-led group Saving Sweet Briar Inc. would raise $12 million to support the college. The exiting leaders acknowledged $28 million would be plenty to keep the school open in 2015-16, having argued the college did not have the ability to continue to operate with the funds it had prior to the agreement.

Saving Sweet Briar came through on its pledge, delivering the money in three installments as called for by the plan.

The first $5 million from Saving Sweet Briar counted toward expenses from the last fiscal year. The school brought in about $42.2 million in revenue that year, including the $5 million, and spent about $42.1 million, according to the college. The remaining 7 million-plus from Saving Sweet Briar is baked into this year’s budget.

Savings in this year’s budget come from a variety of sources.

There are fewer faculty and staff and students this semester, which reduces costs, and in July the school announced it would suspend contributing to employee pensions for this year, a savings of $500,000, Tomlinson said. She explained the administration also worked with school departments to look for whatever cuts might be possible.

She also said the school was able to find some major operational savings. For example, on fuel costs alone, she said, the new board was able to save about $200,000.