Leftover funds spur SA finance reform

About $86,000 of student organizations’ cash, or about 9 percent of the total budget, went unused last year, Student Association leaders said this week – pointing toward the need for a more efficient allocations process.

SA leaders said the pileup of surplus funds – roughly on par with past years’ despite intensified talks with campus groups to better utilize SA funding – demonstrates the need for reform. SA President Ashwin Narla and Executive Vice President Abby Bergren have charged a committee of six senators and six students outside the SA to spend next semester brainstorming ways to improve budgeting.

The effort comes on the heels of a referendum last month, in which students voted to increase the SA fee and double the organization’s budget to $1.75 million over the next nine years. Student leaders said the fee increase was necessary to supplement a budget that sees more than $3 million of requests each year from GW’s over 400 groups.

Narla said the joint committee could recommend changes like increasing the student fee at the pace of inflation or allocating funds differently depending on the type of organization.

“Everything is on the table when we go to these committee meetings,” Narla said. “The best way to reflect is to bring in outside opinion. [The SA’s finances] involve every student here.”

But SA finance chair Alex Mizenko said he doesn’t see a need for change in the system despite criticism that the allocations process for not having enough structure.

“As finance chair, I am going to defend the system of allocations we have now,” Mizenko said, adding that the finance committee would have to approve any of the group’s recommendations and hinting at a potential clash between the senate and executive branches.

Mizenko said the allocations process is not to blame for the rollover, and that recurring problems, like organizations saving money for events that end up not happening and organizations over-requesting funds, cannot actually be avoided.

“We try to handle that through checking in with groups to see if they’re spending the money. If they don’t, we take money away,” Mizenko said. “But you can’t really force organizations to spend every cent they have, even though that’s what they are supposed to do.”

He added that he and Vice Chair Ryan Counihan will not serve on the committee because it would be a conflict of interest, although other members of the finance committee will.

The finance committee will use the additional money to bolster its co-sponsorship fund, which is allocated throughout the year after funds are allocated in the fall. Initial allocations typically dole out about 85 percent of the SA’s budget. With the rollover, the co-sponsorship fund will be about $216,000.

Mizenko said there was a mix of groups that had leftover money but declined to provide the breakdown because he said “after talking with some people, we decided it would not be best to give out the list. It’s private information to see how much is left in each account.”

Rollover from the previous year’s allocation is one of several criteria considered when the finance committee doles out funds, along with group membership and “prestige,” Mizenko said

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