New website to keep student groups’ budgets, calendars in one place

Media Credit: File Photo by Sam Johnson
Ryan Counihan, chair of the Student Association finance committee, said campus organizations will now be accountable for the budgets they propose at the start of each school year.

GW’s nearly 500 student organizations will soon be able to track their day-to-day spending, reserve rooms and publicize events all in one place – the result of years of student lobbying.

The online tool, which replaces a decade-old financial management system, will for the first time give the Student Association’s finance committee the ability to approve groups’ specific requests instead of awarding lump sums of cash. It will also allow groups to sync their events with the University calendar and keep track of meeting space requests, Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said Friday.

“The system we have now is just not robust enough for the number of organizations and ways in which they are using it. The technology is outdated for the ways in which you guys work today,” Konwerski said. GW is still considering which system to purchase – one option being OrgSync, which is used by the Georgetown University Law Center.

The system would likely be pricey, costing Kenyon College about $40,000 for a three-year contract and about $15,000 at the University of California-Long Beach.

GW will also be able to keep closer tabs on groups’ spending, including the about 300 groups that receive money from the Student Association’s $1 million pool.

The SA, led by the Center for Student Engagement, has become increasingly hands-on in groups’ budgeting processes as more organizations compete for a slice of the pot, which comes from the collection of student fees. The CSE has also made it tougher for new groups to form, encouraging students to instead join existing groups and do more fundraising themselves.

The decision comes after the CSE was criticized last year for its minimal oversight over how the Residence Hall Association spent its $30,000 budget. Its president-elect quit the organization after accusing executive board members of misusing funds for personal expenses like steak dinners and t-shirts.

Ryan Counihan, who chairs that committee, said the new system will let student organization members see which line items they requested in their budgets were denied or approved. The committee has never had a way to check if groups are spending their allocation the way they reported they would.

The SA Finance Committee, which makes nearly all funding decisions, will look at budgets through the website instead of keeping track of hundreds of separate documents.

“Right now, a student organization gets $1,000 and they can spend it how they want,” Counihan said. “We would have that enforcement system and they would be accountable to what they told us they would spend their money on.”

Program Board chair Jon Carfagno said the new system will keep him from playing “a game of tag” with administrators to approve his expense requests for the dozens of large-scale events the organization hosts each year.

“It’s like I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to get all the signatures,” Carfagno said. “Having a tool like that, that will centralize and streamline the budget process, will let us plan events more efficiently, save time and focus on other aspects of it.”

Students will upload cell phone photos of their receipts to speed up the reimbursement process, instead of waiting up to four days for University staff to scan and approve expenditure approval forms manually, SA Vice President for Financial Affairs Scott Lauerman said.

Lauerman said groups are spending their money faster this year than ever before, with more expense request forms already submitted so far this year than the total number of requests last year.

The current system has “simply outlived its life expectancy, and it’s time to move into the 21st century,” Lauerman said.

John Bennett, who spent two years helping run the SA finance process before graduating in 2012, said the system has long been broken. He remembered struggling to read scanned copies of crumpled receipts.

The SA and the CSE took too long to process reimbursements, Bennett said, because the system was bogged down with delays. Sometimes CSE did not know organizations’ accounts had less in them than officals’ records showed, leading to groups spending money they were never supposed to have.

“It would get reimbursed anyway out of pity and the group would go into a negative balance so the time lag of processing physical paperwork and entering it online created nightmarish problems,” he said.

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