Last week The Mac Weekly published the staff editorial “The Mac Weekly responds to MCSG’s budgeting.” We believe many aspects of MCSG’s budgeting process were misrepresented. The purpose of this article is to publicly inform students about the misrepresentation and to offer some clarity into MCSG’s budgeting process.
There was a misunderstanding between the Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) and The Mac Weekly regarding Checkbook. The Mac Weekly had been using Checkbook responsibly and should not have received the 50 percent Checkbook cut in the originally-proposed budget.
Members of The Mac Weekly appealed the decision at last week’s MCSG meeting. They presented on why they should not have received the cut; the Legislative Body (LB) discussed their situation and voted 22-2 in favor of removing the cut. This was a clear case of the appeals process working exactly as it should. We recognize that having to make an appeal can be difficult, but when dealing with over 100 organizations there will always be mistakes, and the appeals process is in place to fix them. We do recognize that the appeals process could be improved, a change which we are taking steps to accomplish.
First, we plan to create an appeals form so orgs can communicate their reasons for appealing to MCSG beforehand. This will help the LB be more informed of an org’s needs during the meeting and reduce the overall time of an individual appeal. Second, we will better prepare orgs for LB meetings by having time set aside before the meeting to discuss parliamentary procedure.
While we do see ways in which parts of the budgeting process need to be improved, such as the appeals process, there are other issues that are more nuanced, and therefore take more understanding on everybody’s part. While MCSG needs to focus on making the budgeting system more transparent and the LB more approachable, students and org leaders need to understand the reasons behind the budgeting process.
The Mac Weekly contended that MCSG’s approval of only 66 percent of funds requested by orgs “proves that MCSG is more invested in withholding money than distributing the student activity fee.” It is true that MCSG approved less than 66 percent of the total budgets requested this year, but this is because we have a finite budget. This year, orgs requested $246,927.69, but we have only $158,671.00 in the budget for student orgs. We work hard to distribute as much money as possible through the budgeting process. However, because orgs request more money than we have to give, decisions must be made. We rely on our Financial Code to guarantee decisions are made as fairly as possible.
All funds designated for student organizations fall into two categories: funds allocated to orgs through their budgets and funds for additional allocations. Funds allocated to student orgs are pretty self explanatory: an org is allocated money through the budgeting process, and it uses that money the following year. Funds for additional allocations are a little different; they are available to all orgs and are approved on a rolling basis as orgs need additional funds. These funds are designed to provide funding to new student orgs, orgs that have exhausted their budgets, orgs whose budgets have been cut and orgs who simply come up with new ideas for which they need funds.
Typically, we aim for the annual amount of additional allocations available to sit around $30,000. This year, we actually allocated more funds than usual during the budgeting process, leaving only $14,072 for additional allocations. We recognize that this amount is insufficient for student orgs next year and have suspended the Rollover Bill in response. We won’t go into too much detail about the Rollover Bill, but it basically pushes any leftover student org funds from this year and gives a small bonus to the budgets of Program Board, the Textbook Reserve Program, the Travel Grant and other similar groups. Suspending the Rollover Bill will send the leftover funds from this year into the next year’s additional allocations fund.
We recognize that org leaders do not like using Checkbook. As org leaders ourselves, we agree; Checkbook is tedious. But as the distributors of the student activity fee, MCSG must ensure that the funds we allocate are spent correctly. Without Checkbook, we are unable to hold orgs accountable for the funds they spend. It would be unfair to all students if orgs were able to misuse the funds they receive.
This year we have created workshops through the FAC and Student Organizations Committee (SOC) to teach org leaders how to properly use Checkbook; we will continue to improve these programs so org leaders are better prepared for the budgeting process, especially with respect to Checkbook.
Although a 50 percent cut for not using Checkbook seems harsh, it is effective. Last year was the first year we implemented the cut for not using, or misusing, Checkbook, and 55 orgs (about $70,000 unaccounted for) were affected. This year, only 12 orgs (about $30,000 unaccounted for) were affected by the cut. Although we are pleased that there was such a large improvement in the number of orgs that use Checkbook, there are still thousands of dollars that are unaccounted for, and that is unacceptable.
Finally, The Mac Weekly states, “MCSG’s primary responsibility is to divide the student activity fee amongst Macalester’s dozens of orgs.” Serving students is MCSG’s primary responsibility. To assume that the distribution of the student activity fee is MCSG’s primary responsibility ignores the work of the Academics Affairs Committee, the Student Organizations Committee, the Student Services and Relations Committee, Program Board and the individual students on MCSG. We joined this organization to serve Macalester students, and that is what we do.