Students are hard-pressed to describe how the Student Association affects their lives. They rarely realize that every year the SA has roughly $400,000 to manage and allocate to student groups. Nearly a quarter of this money comes from the $1-per-credit SA charge instituted last year. But students should pay attention when the SA reports that more than $50,000, that would have gone to student groups, has vanished from their budget.
This is the result of horrible communication, and even worse bookkeeping, within the SA and also between the SA and Student and Academic Support Services account managers. Students who worked as vice president of financial affairs (VPFA), the office that keeps the books for the SA, have complained about inadequate accounting software and blame some of the bookkeeping issues on faulty technology. But cheap and outdated software is not a good excuse for the SA books to show a $7,000 surplus while the University books display a $50,574 deficit.
Some in the SA say even the University books are wrong and the deficit is not as large as it now appears. With both sides’ books showing different figures, it is important that the SA straightens out its numbers, as it is potentially wasting thousands of dollars of student money.
There were obviously slips in the accounting process last year. Allocations and co-sponsorships approved by the SA should be accurately documented by the VPFA, noted by SASS account managers, and paid through accounts payable. Notification of payment should then be sent back to the VPFA so the books can be verified.
It does not seem like any individual in the SA ran off with $50K. Most likely the SA allocated money they did not have to student groups. It is now being taken out of this year’s budget.
The result is that the SA has a much smaller pot of money from which to co-sponsor student groups this year. And students are paying the price. Almost all the money made by the SA fee this year will go to covering the financial mismanagement and increased office costs.
Blaming will not help much. Obviously people last year made mistakes and did not communicate well. But energy should be directed to fix the problem.
SA President Phil Robinson is on the right track with his order to audit SA budget numbers. He started his term with a large handicap, as funds were frozen over the summer. The SA was unable to cater to freshmen at Colonial Inauguration as in years past.
He is also promising not to make any major cuts in student group allocations, despite the deficit, and needs to find a way to make serious cuts in all three SA branches as promised.
Larger groups, like the College Republicans, College Democrats and the Jewish Student Association, have already said they will take smaller allotments. The SA needs to make sure the funds they allocate are well distributed, and hopefully earn students’ respect.