The University will finance an external audit of Student Association finances after SA leaders found major discrepancies in financial records. The accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers is scheduled to conduct the audit by early spring, SA President Kris Hart said.
SA members are pressing administrators to evaluate the University’s financial records after the SA discovered dozens of inaccuracies in last year’s books that listed student group expenses. Hart told the SA Senate Tuesday night about the discrepancies and the need for an external audit.
“I really want you to understand how much of a problem this is,” Hart told the Senate. “I’m telling you this with a lot of trust, that you will ask the right questions and be part of the team to find the answers.”
Currently, the SA and the Student and Academic Support Services financial office keep records of SA expenditures, including student organization spending. The SA asked the University for a copy of its records at the beginning of the academic year to review.
After looking through the SASS books for a few months, SA leaders said they found allocations to people and organizations that were never given out. Transactions included a $52,612 allocation to Hart for “miscellaneous expenses” by the Interfraternity Council and an $11,000 allocation to the Residence Hall Association, even though it is funded by the University and not the SA.
Hart and University officials both said he never received a check, nor was a check intended to reach him.
The 54-page report Hart received documents that the SA’s end of year bottomline totaled $0.00 – meaning the SA perfectly budgeted its more than $400,000 allocation. Hart said the numbers don’t make sense.
Johnnie Osborne, associate vice president and chief financial officer for SASS, attributed all of the problems to posting errors. He said someone in the office either typed in wrong information from an Expenditure Approval Form or payment request form or looked at a figure incorrectly, concerning the Hart allegation.
“That amount was actually supposed to be $5.20,” said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services. “I have no idea how it got recorded as $52,000.”
Osborne said the RHA allocation was also an error and the RHA never received money from the SA. Additionally, the figures were not posted in the software from which officials cut checks.
“As long as there’s a human element involved in anything, there could be errors that will happen,” Osborne said.
However, Osborne said he supports an external audit, adding “the more oversight the better.”
Hart said his main concern is that SASS’ books are accurate, and he will work to ensure accuracy. SA books from last year are not available because of a computer crash earlier this year. Hart said he is working with administrators, including University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, to create a system that keeps records more accurately.
“We’re making strides toward holding ourselves accountable, but you can’t do that if the numbers aren’t right,” Hart said.
Hart said he talked to Associate Vice President for Budget Donald Boselovic, who then sent Hart a letter with proposed changes to the current system. Changes include mandating students submit expenditure forms to the SA before SASS financial.
According to SASS’ records, several student organizations were in debt or had large surpluses. Osborne said posting errors could account for negative balances. He said officials could have thought there were available funds in a student account when there really were not.
Osborne said the student groups that took out more money than they were allocated benefited from the mistake. He said student organizations withdrew an extra $5,282, which was paid for by SASS
“My hope is that there would be a hundred percent accuracy as far as the student organizations.”
Hart said he lobbied the administration for the external audit from Pricewaterhouse Coopers. At Tuesday night’s Senate meeting, senators voted on and rejected a bill to call for “independent financial review of the Student Association” to be completed no later than Feb. 17.
Hart and some other senators said they opposed the bill because it is too vague and redundant because of the external audit already being discussed.
“The bill didn’t get passed. It was discussed and people are in support of it. But in light of everything that Kris said, my bill came at the right time to fuel this conversation,” said Sen. Benjamin Traverse (U-CCAS), who sponsored the bill.
“The SA still needs something to state whether the SA accurately portrays itself to students and if it uses the funds correctly,” Traverse added.
Several students said an audit could increase the SA’s credibility on campus, especially since it is proposing a raise in the student fee from $1 to $2 per credit hour for each student. Students will vote on the proposed change in February.
“I would have to know why the money is being raised. It is really odd to have a 100 percent increase on anything, even though it is only $2,” freshman Jessica Coughlin said. “It would have to be more obvious for what the SA does for students and then why it needs so much more money.”
Hart said he will continue to work with administrators until changes are made.
–Jennifer Nedeau contributed to this report.