Board to tighten allocations as fund dwindles

By Abbey Reighard / Staff Writer

Tim Cummings was minutes away from requesting $13,590 in allocations for the men’s club volleyball team when the Student Government Board announced its plan to decrease the amount of money given to student clubs and organizations.

“I was at the Board meeting when they read the statement about how they essentially do not have any money left,” Cummings, the team’s president, said. “I knew at that point I had basically no chance of getting anywhere near that number.”

The Board approved $6,270 — less than half of the amount of Cummings’ request — at its public meeting Feb. 11. 

“I think the outcome of that decision was greatly affected by the timing, but who could blame [the Board]?” Cummings said. “It’s better that they decided to tighten the finances up now before it’s too late.”

The Board starts out each year with almost $930,000 from the Student Activities Fund, which undergraduate, full-time and non-College of General Studies students contribute to in annual $160 student activities fees — $80 paid each semester. Undergraduate, part-time students pay $48 to the fund annually.

The current and previous Board allocated $912,468.45 so far this fiscal year — which runs from July 2013 to June 30, 2014 —  to student groups with the help of the Allocations Committee. 

The Board has about $100,000, which includes overhead from last fiscal year, left to allocate to student organizations for the rest of this fiscal year.

The previous Board allocated in budgets and supplemental requests a total of $811,971.22 this fiscal year, which is more than two-thirds of the total funds both the previous Board and the current Board received to allocate for an entire fiscal year. 

The current Board has allocated $100,497.23 in supplemental requests, or short-term requests that student groups make at the weekly meetings, this semester.

Budget requests for the Fall 2014 semester must be submitted by students groups to the Allocations Committee by Friday, March 28. The committee will then process requests that weekend, and final decisions will be made by the following Monday, March 31. 

Allocations Committee Chairwoman Nasreen Harun said for the remainder of this fiscal year, the Board and the Allocations Committee “will be working together to carefully allocate the rest of the money that we have.” 

Harun announced the funding approach at the public meeting Feb. 11, and Board President Mike Nites said students should know the financial issue facing the Board.

“We felt that it was important to be transparent with how much money we have left because we are going to be stricter with allocations,” Nites said. 

Kenyon Bonner, director of Student Life, said the Student Activities Fund accumulated fees from 17,256 full-time undergraduate students and 1,173 part-time undergraduate students, which totals $2,817,264 collected for the Fund this fiscal year.

This fiscal year, Student Affairs distributed 45 percent of the fund to formula groups — the Pitt Program Council, WPTS Radio, Panther Prints and Pitt Serves — and 22 percent of the fund went to operating expenses of organizations within Student Life that support student groups, such as the Student Organization Resource Center, Student Life staff salaries and student employee salaries. Formula groups are student organizations that receive a predetermined portion of funding each year.

The Student Government Board received about 33 percent of the fund, or about $929,697.12, to allocate toward student resources and operations, staff and student employees.

The Board and the Allocations Committee are responsible for distributing that total to student groups.

“Student Affairs has ultimate responsibility over the funds from the activity fee, however, the University believes in the concept of allowing SGB to manage a percentage of the activity fee,” Bonner said. 

Harun said the amount of allocations requests could also be affected by the increasing number of student groups.

According to Nites, the number of registered clubs and organizations is nearing 400, while the Student Activities Fee that students pay each year has not increased since 2006.

Nites said that when he was a Board member in 2012, the number of student groups was only about 300 and that the increase of student groups might be causing an increase in allocations requests.

“It seems like we’re getting more and more requests, especially from club sports,” Nites said.

Nites said that he does not think an increase of the Student Activities Fee is necessary in the immediate future. 

“Before considering raising the Student Activities Fee, SGB will make every effort to propose a long-term and sustainable solution given the current amount of annual funds,” Nites said.

Bonner said he believes the increase in allocations might result from the increased awareness among student groups about the availability of allocations.

“Recently organizations have become more involved in the allocations process in large part because the Student Government Board  has donea better job in the past three or four years of raising awareness about the Student Activities Fund and how to request from the fund,” Bonner said.

Bonner said that if the Board thinks the Student Activities Fee should be raised, Student Affairs will consider the notion.

“Now after eight years since the last increase, it’s a good opportunity to start talking about whether a fee increase is necessary,” Bonner said. “If the Board thinks the fee should be increased and the students support an increase, then we can take the notion into consideration, but the notion must originate from the Board and the student body.”

Harun said one of the reasons there has been an increase in allocations distributed this year is because of “liberal decision making in regard to allocations requests and the interpretation of allocations policies by the previous SGB.”

Nites said the previous SGB had allocated high sums of money to individual student groups, especially among club sports.

“I think it was an overall mentality where we weren’t really asking ourselves ‘What do student organizations need to exist?’ Instead, we were asking ourselves ‘What do they want?’ and giving them everything they asked for,” Nites said.

Nites noted one instance in particular where he believes too much money was allocated to individual student organizations. 

Last October, after previously rejecting the request, the last Board allocated $26,770.10 to the Pitt Sailing Club for the purchase of six used sailboats. 

“That was a lot of money for one student group,” Nites said.

Harun said the committee and the Board will be more frugal in the amount of money allocated in the future. 

“Our current SGB cannot continue to fund at this level and rate,” Harun said.

Alex Majchrzak, the previous Allocations Committee chair, said he supports the current Board’s decision to publicly announce its financial situation.

Majchrzak said he feels sympathetic for the current Board because it must now restrict funding to make up for the amount of money the previous Board allocated. 

The Allocations Committee makes recommendations to the Board with each allocations requests it receives from student groups. 

Any decisions made by the committee on amounts below $500 are final, but the Board must either support or overturn decisions on values that exceed $500 during public meetings.

“The Allocations Committee last year attempted to control funding levels, but was unsuccessful largely as a result of frequent overturning of the Allocation Committee’s decisions by the board,” Majchrzak said.

Gordon Louderback, the previous Student Government Board president, declined to comment on the spending practices of the 2012-2013 Board. 

“If you’re looking for my opinion, I no longer think it’s relevant, and I’d prefer to not interfere with what SGB does since I have left,” Louderback said. 

Nites said he and Harun will approach student organizations that already receive large sums of money from the Student Activities Fund, such as Student Affairs Affiliated Groups and formula groups, to ask that any leftover funds be given back to SGB in order to be reallocated to other groups.

But Harun said that they “aren’t going to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to,” and Nites agreed.

“We’re not telling the groups that they have to give the money back to us,” Nites said. “We’re just seeing if they are willing to give some back.”

Nites also said any leftover money from student groups at the end of this fiscal year will be absorbed back into the Student Activities Fund for the next fiscal year.

“If groups are not going to use that money, there is no reason to tie it up for several months,” Nites said.

Nites said that he and the rest of the Board are currently brainstorming solutions that would help the Board to “better prioritize current spending.” He plans to meet weekly with Gina Scozzaro, business manager at the Student Organization Resource Center, to check on the official amount left in the allocations fund until the end of this fiscal year. 

Nites also said he plans to meet with Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey to go over the current distribution of the money collected through the Student Activities Fee to determine whether changes would better accommodate students. 

“We would examine how much money formula groups are getting, how much money they’re using, what they’re using it on and see if it’s time to make to change some of those percentages,” Nites said.