Board goes public with student groups’ budget appeals

Board goes public with student groups budget appeals

A disagreement on money matters between the Student Government Board and Allocations Committee ultimately proved that the Board holds the power of the purse.

The Board and Allocations Chair Nasreen Harun met on Saturday for a public meeting to consult with student groups about budget requests and deliberate on the Board’s fall budget request. The Board postponed its weekly Tuesday night meeting to Saturday because several members didn’t return in time from the ACC Lobbying Day in Washington D.C. 

While previous Boards have deliberated upon budget appeals privately, Harun said she and Board President Mike Nites decided to hold public budget appeals for student groups this year.

“We’re just holding everyone accountable and letting everyone know what’s going on,” Harun said. 

Student groups and the Board submit requests to the Allocations Committee twice annually in the spring and fall. The committee then deliberates and recommends actions to the Board that the Board can approve, deny or defer.

“I know it seems strange for us to vote on our own budget,” Nites said. “But the very least we could do is vote on it publicly.” 

Budgets provide student groups with longer-term funding for documented events the student groups are preparing for in the future. The Board holds budget appeals so student groups can appeal the Allocations recommendation before the Board issues a final vote on the request.

Nites said students can submit deferred budget requests as a supplemental request.

“It just means the conversation is held off for a little later,” Nites said. “It’s not a negative thing.”

Nites added that the Board’s portion of the allocations process should be public, but the Allocation Committee’s deliberations about requests should be private because the committee has “serious discussions” about allocation requests that “can’t always take place publicly tactfully.”

Harun agreed that the idea of the Board voting on its budget may seem strange, but Harun also said she thinks the system is fair. 

“When these people are elected by the student body, I believe that the student body is putting faith into [the Board] to make fair decisions like this,” Harun said. 

Harun read aloud the Allocations recommendation to the Board’s fall budget request, which includes Board-led initiatives. The Board requested a total of $14,967.30.

Of the total, the committee recommended to deny $8,170, approve $5,613.55 and defer $1,183.75 for 10 programs.

The Board then deliberated and voted on the request, concluding with an approval of $14,497.30 and deferral of $470, despite the committee recommendation.

The Allocations Committee recommended to deny the Board’s request of $700 for the SGB Emergency Fund as well as $2,000 for the Crisis Management Fund, a reservation of funds for students who experience housing crises, such as house fires. Harun said the committee felt that the funds were lump sums and didn’t provide the necessary documentation for approval from the Allocations Committee. 

“When we make our decisions, we’re very precise about documentation so that the amount we allocate is what is absolutely necessary according to the documentation,” Harun said. 

The Board could use the Emergency Fund for unforeseen expenses, according to Board member Abby Zurschmit. 

“We are a little different from other student organizations,” Zurschmit said. “Sometimes we are asked to take on costs that we didn’t incur.”

Zurschmit said the Office of Student Affairs has previously asked the Student Government Board to host events, including March Service Madness, which the Board paid for with money from the Emergency Fund.

The previous Board also had a separate Committee Emergency Fund of $5,000 specifically for the Student Government Committees. The current Board eliminated the Committee Emergency Fund to cut costs, according to Zurschmit and Nites. 

Board member Sara Klein said she was “skeptical” about the Emergency Fund because other student organizations likely wouldn’t receive money for a fund they might not use.

“If another organization came up to us and asked for funds just in case something happens, I don’t think we would fund for them,” Klein said. “I know things come up for us, but things come up for other student organizations, too.”

Nites said the Board has cut down on the fund, which amounted to $2,500 last year.

Nites also said the previous Board allocated close to $56,000 for its spring and fall budgets. 

Board member Ryan Orr said he thinks the Board should keep the Emergency Fund because the Board requested less funding in its overall budget than the amount for which previous Boards have asked.

“I think because we did cut down on the budget so much this year, having the emergency fund available to us is crucial,” Orr said. 

The Board approved the Emergency Fund in full. 

The Board also approved the Crisis Management Fund  in full, despite the Allocations recommendation. 

Board member Graeme Meyer introduced the program in February as a “safeguard” and defended funding the program’s implementation on Saturday. 

“The amount of time and effort the Board was putting into raising funds [for housing crises] was exceeding what the Board was actually making,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he feels that it is the responsibility of the student government to “respond effectively” when student housing crises happen. 

The Allocations Committee also recommended the Board deny a request of $470 to maintain the neon light “Tree of Knowledge” display on the first floor of the William Pitt Union. The display was a gift to the University from a previous Board, but the current Board is responsible for any maintenance costs. 

Harun said the committee denied the request for funds to conduct maintenance on the display in the fall, should repairs be necessary, because “the committee did not feel as if that was an expense that should be incurred by the Board.” 

The Board discussed whether or not administrators should be responsible for maintaining the tree display and if the Board should take the tree down. 

The Board deferred the request for the $470 to maintain the Tree of Knowledge if it breaks, so the amount will not factor into its budget. The Board decided it would make a supplemental request if the display breaks. 

“I think it’s something we need to talk to administration about,” Nites said. 

The Allocations Committee approved the Board’s requests for Student Legal Services, Allocations Committee software, a Budget Weekend food stipend and the cost for Board members to attend the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students conference.

The Allocations Committee recommended to defer the Board’s requests for funds to pay for the popcorn and sodas provided at the SGB weekly public meetings and the Pancakes and Politics event because the Board did not provide proper documentation for the programs.

Board members chose to pass both programs because the Board provided the necessary documentation for the programs during the meeting, according to Zurschmit. 

Student groups can also submit supplemental requests, which the Allocations Committee deliberates upon weekly, throughout the school year. After private deliberation, Harun makes a recommendation to the Board at public meetings. The Board then deliberates the requests and makes a final decision. 

Student groups submitted budget requests to the Allocations Committee by a March 28 deadline. The Committee then deliberated the budgets in private from April 3 through 5. 

Harun read aloud the budget requests of 20 student groups, including Student-Affairs-affiliated groups and the Student Government Board, on Saturday. Harun listed the amounts requested and the amounts the Allocations Committee approved or deferred. Harun also explained why the Allocations Committee made its decisions based on the policies in the Allocations Manual.

The Board then deliberated each of the budget requests and voted on a final decision. The Board either approved, denied or deferred expenses for each of the items the student groups requested on their budgets.

In other action:

The Board officially swore in the two new Board members, Ben West and Orr, whom the Board selected last Sunday to fill two vacancies because of resignations last month by former Board members Ellie Tsatsos and Brandon Benjamin.

The Board selected West and Orr as members for the remainder of its fiscal year, which concludes next January, after the Board interviewed applicants and deliberated its decision for more than eight hours on Sunday. 

Nites said he, Board member Mona Kazour and Harun have been preparing the two new members for their new positions on the Board, as the other Board members were at the ACC Lobbying Day. 

Nites said the Board did not have as much time as it had to train Board member Nick Hufnagel, who joined the Board last March after former Board member Jake Radziwon resigned in February, because the new Board members only had a few days to prepare for public meeting.

Kazour met with West and Orr, whom Nites said have attended public meetings in the past, last Monday to discuss the format of public meetings. Harun joined Kazour, West and Orr to discuss the budget requests the Board heard on Saturday. 

Nites said he brought West and Orr to his biweekly meeting with Kenyon Bonner, Student Government Board adviser and Director of Student Life, and said both Board members will be meeting with Harun, who will conduct an in-depth allocations training session for them.

Budget appeals:

Resident Student Association requested $26,751.91 to host events, conference fees, retreat fees and national dues. The Board approved $19,973.72 and denied $6,778.19 in line with the Allocations recommendation

Engineering Student Council requested $20,654.21 to host events, conference fees and retreat fees. The Board approved $16,521.70, denied $3,272.51, and deferred $860 of the request, in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

Asian Student Alliance requested $14,499.95 for speakers and performers to come to campus. The Board approved $11,995.40, denied $729 and deferred $1,775.55 of the request, in line with the Allocations recommendation

Pitt Roller Hockey requested $8,640 for rink time. The Board approved $4,185 and denied $4,455 because the club received funding for rink time in the past and would not have enough time to raise funds for the costs themselves. 

Panhellenic Association requested $18,362.82 for conference dues, recruitment fees, conference fees and guest speaker fees. The Board approved $11,622.04 and denied $6,740.78 in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

Interfraternity Council requested $14,409.50 for fall and spring recruitment, conference fees and other events the group will host. The Board approved $9,597 and denied $4,812 in line with the Allocations recommendation.

Greek Week requested $45,351.01 to host events. The Board approved $44,421.01 and denied $930 in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

Engineers for Sustainable Medical Design requested $142.07 for a design group case and a storage box for their projects. The Board approved $59.08 and denied $82.99 because the group can use the storage box to protect their projects. 

Scientists, Mathematicians and Engineers for Service requested $385 for Pennsylvania criminal-history clearances, Pennsylvania child-abuse History and a Balsa Wood Tower. The Board approved $85 and deferred $150.

National Pan-Hellenic Council requested $12,155.71 for dues, honorariums, retreat fees and conference fees. The Board approved $7,243.18, denied $1,112.53 and deferred $3,800. 

Panther Women’s Rugby Football Club requested $3,406.92 to fund three home games and a tournament. The Board deferred the request in full in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

FeelGood requested $1,264.98 for reusable kitchen utensils and cheese. The Board approved $64.98 and denied $1,200 of the request. 

Campus Women’s Organization requested $10,779 for actress and comedian Sasheer Zamata to speak on campus. The Board approved the request in full. 

Black Action Society requested $91,796 for speakers, retreat fees, conference fees and to host other events on campus. The Board approved $54,796, denied $12,500 and deferred $24,500 of the request. 

Men’s Ice Hockey Club requested $23,500 for transportation to away games. The Board deferred the request in full in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

Theta Tau requested $4,950 for membership dues. The Board denied the request in full in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

Robotics and Automation Society requested $120 for raw materials to build robots. The Board deferred the request in full in line with the Allocations recommendation. 

Pitt Rowing Club requested $32,170 for a new boat. The Board deferred the request in full because the Board said the club had previously told the Board that they would not be coming back to the Board for more boats. 

Club Tennis Team requested $1,144 for practice court rentals. The Board approved the request in full.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that the Allocations Committee approved the Board’s request for the cost for Board members to attend the Professional Association for SQL Server conference. The information is incorrect. The Allocations Committee approved the Board’s request for the cost for Board members to attend the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students Conference. The Pitt News regrets this error.