Student senate works through budget crisis

Various student groups that receive funding from the student activity fee via the Student Senate met to discuss ways they could reduce their budgets at last Wednesday during the emergency meeting of the Student Senate.
Randy Hazelton
Various student groups that receive funding from the student activity fee via the Student Senate met to discuss ways they could reduce their budgets at last Wednesday during the emergency meeting of the Student Senate.

Posted on March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized
By Sam Hill

Due to low enrollment this year, the amount of student activity fee funds expected to be dispersed this spring will be much less than expected, and in the past week, the Student Government Association has had to revise its budget and cut the budgets of its entities to adjust.

In the past, the student activity fee has added up to $250,000 dollars each semester, but this semester the check cut was only $200,000. Once that money is available, a lot of is immediately dispersed in certain areas automatically due to various contracts. 30 percent goes to the Student Communications Board, which funds WMPG Community Radio and the Free Press, and some is spent covering the costs of the SGA Business Office employees, Student Legal Services, the SGA graduate assistant and an annual audit. After those costs were covered, the student senate was left with $140,000 to cover a collective budget of $172,248.

The budget was balanced, but not without a lot deliberation between SGA and entity members. An emergency meeting was held last Wednesday to adjust the budget.
“The reason why we called everyone together is so everyone could have a fair shot and express why or why not they may or may not need their funding,” said student senator Tyler Boothby.

Boothby had been working closely with Student Body President Kelsea Dunham and coordinator of the SGA Business Office Ray Dumont to look over the budget and look at various funding scenarios to see where where cost saving measures could be implemented.

“I know it’s not an ideal circumstance,” said Dumont. “Student Government is being hit with exactly the same conditions that the university has been hit with.”
Dumont went through the budget and helped to close the gap, using unallocated funds, uncommitted funding from the Board of Student Organizations and available discretionary funds. Money set aside for the student body president and student representative to the Board of Trustees traveling costs were also cut. These cuts brought the gap down to $20,561, which had to be taken from SGA entities including the Gorham Events Board, Portland Events Board, Leadership Development Board and Words & Images.

“This is something that we don’t want to do at all, but we have to,” said Boothby. “We understand that nobody is going to be happy, but we want to make sure everyone has a voice.”

Dumont presented proposed cuts to the entities and each group’s representative explained their plans for the semester and what cuts they could handle.

GEB, which has the highest budget of all the entities, has already spent $15,000 of their $25,000 budget, planning and paying for events as far into the future as April. Looking through their budget, GEB chair Delaney Kenny and financial chair Samantha Davol were able to cut costs by eliminating projects they had budgeted for, but decided not to complete, including a texting programs to inform students about their events and future funding for late-night buses between Gorham and Monument Square in Portland.

They also had funds free from situations where they had collaborated with other groups to save money and cut costs on prizes for giveaway events. They ended up cutting $3,070 from their budget, leaving them $6,930 for the rest of the semester.

PEB took a $7,000 cut, leaving them with a $6,000 operating budget to plan commuter-related events. Words and Images cut $3,000 cut, bringing their spring semester funding down to $1,500. The majority of costs for Words and Images comes at the end of the year when they print their literary journal, so the group still has money they received in the fall semester. LDB cut $2,500 from their budget, leaving them with a $3,300 operating budget for the rest of the semester. The SGA business office was also able to cut $2,000 from their office budget. All of these cuts total to $17,570.

The entity heads also decided to reduce stipends for the remainder of the semester by 20 percent, cutting $2,255 from the budget.

Dunham said that in a recent meeting with University President Theodora Kalikow said most universities don’t pay their student senators or events board chairs at all.
“Most students don’t get paid to do the things that we do,” said Dunham “The fairest way, in my opinion, is to do an across the board stipend reduction.”

The idea of cutting stipends entirely was brought up, but was shot down by many. While cutting stipends entirely would save roughly $11,000, many students rely on that income.

“For many of us, that’s not feasible,” said Dunham to entity heads. “I’m not going to lie, I need that money to eat, and I know a lot of you do too.”

Dunham said that cutting down on programming is not ideal, but that cutting stipends entirely would be problematic for a lot of students, as they personally budget to receive those stipends and that many do not have time for another job.

“I don’t think it’s fair to just cut you off cold turkey,” said Dumont. “It’s one thing to say, in the next budget year we’re going to pay next to nothing or nothing, but to cut you off, considering there are people who depend on it more than others, isn’t an option today.”

Dumont was able to find other available discretionary funds to close the remainder of the gap. The revised budget was unanimously approved by the student senate last Friday.

While the budget for the remainder of this year is balanced, Boothby reminded senators and entity heads that there was more work to be done, as they cannot student activity fee funds to increase in the future.

According to Director of Portland Student Life Chris O’Connor, projected enrollment is down seven percent as of last Wednesday.
“The cutting is going to have to continue, unfortunately,” said Boothby.

Boothby said that he has been advised to help budget to $300,000 total for next year. the SGA needs to figure out the budget for next year within the next month, as it has to be approved by the current senate and then voted on again when new senators become active April. This year’s SGA elections includes a referendum question asking students if they would support a slight increase in student activity fees, but it would not take effect until the 2015- to 2016 year if approved.

“I’m going to ask BSO and Student Senate to do your best to make this a learning opportunities for your organizations,” said O’Connor at the emergency meeting.

O’Connor said his primary concern was the lack of funding for student groups under the Board of Student Organizations, which are left with no spare funding after these cuts.

“We need to start training our students to be more fiscally conservative,” said O’Connor. “It’s really easy when we have full budgets to blow through and to not scrutinize every proposal that comes through, but that’s not the case anymore.”

At the senate meeting on Friday, Boothby stressed the need to move on from this budget to begin working to adjust next year’s budgets.