Tens of thousands spent on furniture, travel and stipends for SA
The Student Association prides itself as the defender of the students, but protection isn’t cheap.
Like other student organizations, SA goes to its Finance Board with a request for funding each year. This year the group has been working with a $50,500 operational budget, according to the Finance Board’s memo to the assembly last year.
‘Given my position, seeing student organizations that come to us asking for money, I would favor a smaller SA budget,’ said SA comptroller Andrew Urankar.
Last year the organization spent about $10,000 to place cubicles in its Schine Student Center offices, said former comptroller Maggie Misztal. That is equivalent to more than 60 students’ $144.50 activity fees at work.
‘I’m not going to apologize about that,’ said SA President Travis Mason. ‘How well you look speaks to credibility. It’s important how you look. I’m not saying we are going to do anything crazy.’
Mason explained that much of the expense of the cubicles went into installing electrical and computer jacks. The cubicle space will be used by the SA Cabinet, which acts as the financial officer for the organization, he said.
‘I think it’s a terrible use of the student activity fee,’ Misztal said.
Unlike other student groups, SA can keep each year’s unspent funding in a special account, Misztal said. That ‘rollover’ account was used in the purchase of the office furniture, Urankar said. Misztal suggested it was money left over that would have gone to the SA account if unspent.
SA’s rollover account is unique in that it allows the organization to save its money in its own account; every other organization on campus must put its leftover funds in a collective account that is accessible to all student groups.
Last fall, SA passed a bill that allowed student groups to retain any profits – but not leftover funding – they make in a separate account instead of having all the money go into the joint account at the end of the fiscal year, July 1.
Urankar said it is unfair that SA has its own account when all other organizations’ unused money goes into the large joint account.
‘SA should be held to the same level of accountability as all other organizations,’ he said.
Urankar, however, said he would support an initiative by Mason to buy more furniture for the office this year. Mason wants to buy couches and other furniture for the office to provide a place for students to read, eat lunch or ‘chill.’ He would not specify how much he plans on spending but said it would be less than the $10,000 spent last year. The office currently houses several blue swivel chairs and filing cabinets and it is unclear exactly how much furniture could be fit in the space.
Former president Andrew Lederman agreed with Mason that the cubicles were needed to make the space look more professional.
‘It’s necessary to consider, in addition to buying furniture, some of the unnecessary expenses here and put them to programming,’ Urankar said.
He described unnecessary expenses of the organization as things such as food and subscriptions.
Like every other organization that receives funding from SA, the group must put expense reports through the comptroller before it uses any money. Major expenses allocated for this academic year, according to the Finance Board memo, were $12,000 for office supplies, $10,000 for phone use and $4,000 each for housing stipends for the comptroller and president. The organization was also allotted $5,000 for its SA Leadership Banquet.
The housing stipend is divided into $1,000 for each semester and $2,000 over the summer, Lederman said. Lederman did not stay in Syracuse during the summer months but said he was frequently on the phone with the Office of Greek Life and Experiential Learning. Urankar said he will not be staying in Syracuse this summer, and Mason said he would be on the Hill during Maymester, for one week in June and about two weeks before classes start in the fall.
Mason said it is not in SA’s codes that the president and comptroller have to stay in Syracuse to continue receiving their housing stipend.
Neither Misztal nor Urankar thinks SA should receive funding for things that other student groups would not receive funding for. Misztal described a conference in Texas to which SA sends eight members as an example of something that should not be funded.
‘If that was requested by another student group to the Finance Board it would probably be denied,’ she said.
Mason said SA should not be thought of as just another student organization in the budget process because it is the governing body.
‘It takes money,’ he said. ‘If you don’t give the governing body the resources they need, they can’t get done what they need.’
The amount of money SA received in the last year was roughly equivalent to what it has been allocated in the last few years, Lederman said. Mason said he believes the SA budget has not been used wisely in the past in some instances.
‘Because the money has not been needed in the past does not mean this administration should suffer,’ he said.
During the budget process, however, each student group’s past performance and the number of students the group benefits are taken into account for future funding decisions.
‘You can’t compare us to a regular student organization,’ Mason said. ‘I am not saying we are more important, but we have to cater to everyone’s needs.’
This includes co-sponsoring events on campus to the tune of $3,000, paying for shuttles to the airport during Thanksgiving and Spring Break for $4,000 and paying for the phone and Internet use for student organizations. Mason said an alternative in the future to make sure people are happy with the budget is to increase the student activity fee.
Mason said he has plans for the SA’s money but would not elaborate, saying he was saving the announcement for his ‘State of the Campus’ address next week.
During the budget process, members of student groups present the Finance Board with their proposals for the upcoming semester. These applications specifically describe what the group wants funded and how much it needs. The Finance Board then makes its decision and the groups must fill out an expense sheet and have the comptroller sign off on a purchase before it can be made. Any changes must be run by the comptroller, who is double-checked by the Finance Board.
‘Just putting it down on paper doesn’t mean you are going to get it,’ Urankar said of the last check of filling out expense reports.
Misztal, however, recalled a time when a student group, which she refused to name, tried sneaking a PlayStation 2 and DVD recorder into its report.
THE BIG MONEY
Two groups who know this process well are HillTV and the Syracuse University Outing Club. The two were among the most highly funded organizations on campus. HillTV received $85,756.72 for the current academic year, and the Outing Club got $18,629 last semester, according to a Finance Board memo.
HillTV has about 250 students involved in its programming, which includes news, sports and animated shows, said the station’s general manager, Chris Milkovich. The station used its budget to make two big purchases this year: a system that helps to share media files throughout the office and a new graphics system. These purchases accounted for about half the station’s budget, according to the Finance Board memo.
The other money goes to supplies and to repairs of equipment because of the wear and tear that is prevalent in the industry. All installation and repairs are done by staff engineers, Milkovich said.
‘It saves a bit of money, and the engineers like doing it,’ he said. ‘If any company wanted to charge installation, we just wouldn’t do it.’
The station has an executive staff board that makes financial suggestions and decides what types of new technology the station needs, Milkovich said. No one is paid a salary.
‘Especially in the high-tech business it is easy to go through money,’ he said. ‘We are just trying to improve the product as much we can.’
Milkovich, a junior television, radio and film major, said that in his experience the station receives about the same amount of money each year and that it seems to be enough to get by. The station does have fund raisers but uses them to fund purchases that help brand the station, such as keychain giveaways in Schine, Milkovich said.
HillTV is in the process of developing a commercial and advertising branch for when the station makes the leap to Time Warner Cable, he said. Milkovich said he did not think the increased revenue from commercials would decrease HillTV’s reliance on SA; it would be used to fund a travel budget to provide coverage for away SU sporting events.
The Outing Club has about 100 members and has only in the last five years or so seen a real increase in its funding, said the club’s president, Jessica Logan, a senior environmental studies, policy and management major at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Logan was not sure why there had been an increase in funding. The group provides about three to five trips each weekend with activities varying during the changing seasons and helps fund activities such as the Winter Carnival and a film series. Trips include rafting and rock and ice climbing.
Transportation to and from destinations is done by members, with those in the car pitching in for gas. The group’s Spring Break trip to West Virginia is funded entirely by students, Logan said.
‘The equipment is most expensive,’ she said. ‘And it has to be replaced every few years just to make sure everything is safe.’
Big purchases allotted by the Finance Board in April 2004 included about $7,000 for caving equipment and about $3,500 both for climbing gear and backpacking equipment, according to a Finance Board memo.
So with this year’s budget stretched thin – groups request about three times more money than the student fee supplies – there are two viable options: raise the student fee or spend the students’ money more wisely.
‘Would this be more effective if we had more money?’ Urankar asked. ‘If we had more money to work with, I can’t imagine too many people complaining.’
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