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Group addresses budget concerns

Liz Harter and Sarah Mayer | Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A group of about 35 Saint Mary’s students met with members of the Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board, Vice President of Student Affairs Karen Johnson and director of Student Involvement and Board of Governance (BOG) advisor Patrick Daniel to discuss concerns they have about the SGA budget approved by the Executive Board last week.

For the second time in College history, the Executive Board, consisting of student body president Mickey Gruscinski, student body vice president Sarah Falvey, chief of staff Lauren Theiss, executive treasurer Mo Weaver, Residence Hall Association (RHA) coordinator Maura Clougherty, Student Diversity Board (SDB) coordinator Adriana Rodriguez, Student Activities Board coordinator (SAB) Michele Peterson and executive secretary Jenny Hoffman has allotted themselves a stipend in the SGA budget. The budget containing $243,040, which comes from the student fees included in the tuition of every full-time student, was first introduced last week at the Board of Governance meeting with a $20,000 stipend for the Executive Board.

Senior Sarah Voss coordinated the event after hearing about concerns BOG members raised when the budget was discussed Wednesday and frustrations voiced by fellow students.

“The only thing I want to accomplish is to let students voice their opinions on the budgeting issue. I want students to know that the BOG and administrators should make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire student body,” she told The Observer Sunday.

Johnson said she was excited about the forum because it is the first time in the three years she has worked at the College that students “are vaguely interested in the budget.”

She explained that the Executive Board sets the budget for each year and submits it to Daniel and herself to receive the money for the allotments in laid out in it, as per the SGA Constitution.

The student body does not need to approve the budget, she said.

This is not the first year the Executive Board has received a monetary stipend.

Last year’s Executive Board allotted themselves a $40,000 monetary stipend, and Executives serving SGA prior to that would often take a trip to Chicago where they would “stay at five star hotels, eat at nice restaurants, see shows and go shopping,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she did not control what previous Executive Boards did with the money they were given to budget. Her only involvement was making sure they taxed themselves on the money they received and made sure the Executive Board did not get audited.

She said that when she came to Saint Mary’s she was shocked that they gave the Executive Board close to $250,000 with no college oversight and that much trust was put into students, however, they have done a good job.

Johnson said the SGA Constitution is written in a way that allows the Executive Board to allot themselves a stipend.

Falvey said the Constitution Oversight Committee, which she chairs, will be trying to implement a system of checks and balances through an amendment to the Constitution throughout the year which will address the issue of a stipend.

In order to put a system of checks and balances place, though, 10 percent of the student body would have to vote in approval of the amendment, Daniel said.

Many students in attendance brought up the fact that Gruscinski and Falvey ran unopposed in last year’s elections. They stated that more people might have run for the position if they knew they would be getting paid for their service to the College. Gruscinski, Falvey and their Board, however, did not know they would be receiving a stipend when they ran.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Weaver said they were informed about the stipend by last year’s Executive Board at the end of the year and needed to vote whether or not they would continue the practice this year.

Falvey said she did not think students knowing about the stipend is a bad thing, rather she thinks it could make students pay more attention to the things BOG does throughout the year.  

“This could empower the student body to hold BOG accountable for their actions,” she said.

Many students said they understand that the Executive Board does a lot on campus, but senior Jackie Rothschild said she feels the Board allotting themselves a stipend is an ethical concern.

“I could not handle half of the things the executive board is doing in the community but it is an ethical conflict of interest for them to be voting themselves that money,” she said.

Senior Molly Lamping agreed saying she wants to see the Executive Board represent what the students want.  

“I want to see the Executive Board officials stand up and say we represent the student body, they are our constituents, and we will represent them as best as possible,” she said.

Falvey welcomed the comments students were making about the budget because she wants more students to take an interest in SGA and the College.

“Students voices are important,” she said. “If you have a problem with something, come tell me. This is the first time we are hearing from students all year.”

Daniel reminded those in attendance that once the budget is approved by the Executive Board it cannot be changed and each category is allotted a certain amount of money.  

“You cannot take money from one category and use it in another,” he said.

Weaver said she wants students to know that the stipend isn’t the only important part of the budget.

This year’s Executive Board was able to increase funds to different aspects of SGA by $36,000 and while doing that, they decreased the stipend by $30,000, she said.

Daniel pointed out that while many complaints and comments were about the actions of previous boards,’ bringing them up was not going to change anything.

“Looking at things done with the past budget and speculating is not going to change anything happening with your current budget,” he said.