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Budgetary concerns addressed

Liz Harter | Thursday, October 2, 2008

Saint Mary’s Board of Governance (BOG) members discussed the budget approved this week by the Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board at their meeting Wednesday night.

The budget, which was prepared by executive treasurer Mo Weaver, and voted on by student body president Mickey Gruscinski, student body vice president Sarah Falvey, executive secretary Jenny Hoffman, chief of staff Lauren Theiss, Student Activities Board Coordinator (SAB) Michele Peterson, Residence Hall Association (RHA) coordinator Maura Clougherty and Student Diversity Board coordinator Adriana Rodriguez, lays out the allocation of funding for the $243,040 which SGA received from the student government fees each full-time student pays.

Vice president of student affairs Karen Johnson and director of student involvement and BOG advisor Patrick Daniel will review the approved budget, which they can accept or reject.

“The Executive Board is the budgeting council for SGA,” Falvey said. “This budget is a recommendation.

For the second year in a row, the budget includes an allocated stipend that “the executives receive for being executives,” Weaver said.

The Executive Board can choose whether or not they wish to accept this money for their services to SGA and the student body.

“Last year was the first year they did [take a stipend],” Weaver said. “They told us about it at the end of last year so it was something we needed to vote on ….

“This year we’re looking at things like making ground rules … not just for this year but it’ll continue in years to come,” she said.

While it is not specified in the SGA Constitution if the Executive Board can set aside a stipend for themselves, it is also not stated that they cannot, Falvey said. The addition of a clause stating whether or not they can will be taken to the Constitution Oversight Committee and Falvey said she hopes it is more explicit in the Constitution next year.

Many BOG members said they took issue with the fact that this stipend is coming out of funds received from the student government fees included in each student’s tuition.

“I don’t see how we can take money we get out of tuition and pay other students,” health and wellness commissioner Pauline Kistka said.

Class of 2009 president Jenny Antonelli agreed.

“I have an issue with it coming out of student funds … that can be used towards another activity on campus or some type of thing that could benefit the entire student body,” she said.

Members also took issue with the idea that students are deciding whether or not a stipend should be set aside for SGA executives.

“Is there a way that Karen [Johnson], Patrick [Daniel], Slandie [Dieujuste, director of Residence Life], and [College President Carol Ann] Mooney can sit down and decide this?” public relations commissioner Katie Danko asked. “I don’t think it’s ethical for students to decide this.”

Kistka also said she doesn’t know how she feels about the fact that the students who will be receiving the money are the ones deciding the budget.

“We were not informed of this [happening] last year,” she said. “My concern is that I know that six people – and I’m not saying you guys, I’m saying on boards prior – were given the option to receive money. If the decision was in their hands and they’re the ones going to receive the money, I don’t see the open-mindedness of the decision or an unbiased decision regarding it. I guess I kind of see a conflict in getting money in general.”

Admissions commissioner Kristle Hodges, who held the same position on last year’s BOG, said former student body president Kim Hodges and the rest of the Executive Board did not come up with a proposal for the executives to receive a stipend out of the blue.

“[The student governments] at most schools and universities across the nation not only get paid a stipend every month but they get free room and board,” Hodges said. “They get a lot of other privileges that Saint Mary’s [executive board] does not get at all,” she said.

Daniel said he knows that the amount the College’s Executive Board allocated for a stipend is “a drop in the bucket” compared to larger schools and “very comparable” to schools of the same size.

“This is not something that does not happen,” he said.

Elections commissioner Francesca Johnson, however, said she thinks putting a clause for a stipend in the SGA Constitution will change the reasons why people will run for student body president and vice president.

“When did we get to the point that we need to be rewarded?” she asked. “I think it’s taking away from the reasons why in the future people are going to be running for positions and running for board… In the past it was because you love student government or you love the organization you are in. I don’t see why we have to say ‘because I put in so many hours and because I put in whatever I have to get something out of it.'”

Gruscinski sent an e-mail to the Executive Board members as part of their discussion before approving the budget, stating that she was okay with the executives receiving a stipend, though not the $5,000 last year’s Executive Board took.

However, she “would not keep the stipend and [she] would publicly give it back to the school in a way that [she] knew would benefit the students.”

“As the president of our student body, I cannot ethically and intentionally connect myself to something which upsets the student body,” she said.

She said she does not want to receive any sort of stipend from the money collected from student activity fees.

“I believe it is unethical, no matter how much we would allocate to ourselves or how we try to justify it, to decide to pay ourselves out of student money,” Gruscinski said. “The core value for this year is justice and I think we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and choose what is just.”