By Kelly Pyzik
Last year, Grinnell College’s Student Government Association overspent by $28,355, 8% of its total budget, including the reserve account.
This past Tuesday, the student body received an email from the SGA Cabinet with an update on the over-allocation and resulting overspending from last year.
“In spite of last-minute measures to curb spending, last year’s SGA overspent by $28,355. This figure includes investments that last year’s treasurer [Raghav Malik ’13] made into mutual funds. In order to return SGA to a state of financial stability, we need to underspend our usual budget by 9% this year,” said the all-campus email.
While the exact factors leading to the over-allocation remain unclear, a major factor seems to have been that SGA did not have a standardized procedure for monitoring ACE’s budget. Recognizing this as an institutional failure, this year’s SGA is focused on creating corrective mechanisms to avoid such problems in the future.
“It was a collective institution failure. There is a sense of accountability in cabinet that we all right now check up on each other. We look out for each other and do work with each other to make sure we are all on the same page. Toward the end of the year, that was more difficult with last year’s cabinet,” said current SGA Treasurer and last year’s Assistant Treasurer, Roni Finkelstein ’15.
While it has been stressed that the overspending was not the fault of any one individual person or party, $24,000 of the overspending came from All Campus Events (ACE). Last year’s ACE Chair, Chloe Griffen ’14, did not respond to requests for an interview.
This year, the ACE Committee has reviewed its budget, policies and practices, and implemented changes to decrease the likelihood of similar mistakes in the future. Through these changes, they also hope to encourage students to avoid superfluous spending.
Fortunately, due to the increase in the number of students from last year to this year, there will be an increase in cash inflow to the SGA from student activities fees and the 2013-2014 cabinet will only have to spend $7500 less per semester than last year in order to be back in the clear by the end of the year.
“SGA is working really hard to make sure the overspending and over-allocations that happened last year don’t repeat themselves this year. The whole group is really united to make sure that it doesn’t happen again and we stay within our budget lines, while still maintaining quality programming for Grinnell students,” said Aaron Levin ’14, ACE Vice-Coordinator.
ACE now has two separate areas to their budgeting. There is a portion set aside for annual campus-wide parties such as 10/10, Halloween Harris and Waltz. The amount set aside was based on the spending for each of these parties for the past three years. The rest of the ACE budget is now part of an “innovation pool,” which is available to allocate to non-annual events or programming that students propose.
“This way we have a system in place where we know the numbers we’re working with to try to avoid any overspending or over-allocation ever again,” Levin said. “If someone wants to throw a really cool party or bring a theatre troupe or comedian or spoken word poet in, that’s what the innovation pool is for.”
The SGA Treasurer’s office is also taking steps to improve their budgeting. They are working with IT to develop an online budget application form and are instituting a policy that all receipts must be turned in within one month of purchase. The policy, which SGA plans to constitutionalize, will allow the Treasurer’s office to create a monthly spending report and more easily remain aware of where the budget stands.
“The problem with over expenditure is that you can’t anticipate over expenditure if you don’t have the receipts ahead of time. There’s a huge flood of receipts that comes in the last week of the semester and that’s when the numbers become more clear,” Finkelstein said. “We weren’t completely aware what the actual expenditures [from last year] were until we got back from the summer because the numbers aren’t available until all of the checks are processed.”
The administration appears pleased with how SGA has chosen to handle the situation.
“Roni and Gargi [Magar ’16, SGA Assistant Treasurer] were proactive about the situation and came to the office to talk with the Accounting staff,” said Controller and Assistant Treasurer Nancy Combs in an email to the S&B. “We reviewed budget versus actual spending with them and they appeared to have a good understanding of the overages and how they occurred. They initiated discussion regarding how to get back in balance and will proceed accordingly.”
Overall, SGA stresses that last year’s overspending should not significantly affect this year’s programming.
“I think that it’s important to realize that we aren’t doing less programming, but that we are doing smarter programming,” Finkelstein said. “We’re really looking for students with innovative ideas to come to us and present us with budgets that aren’t frivolous, that are reasonable and use what we already have. We have a ton of supplies in the ACE closet and we have tons of supplies that student groups have bought. We want to use the resources that we already have and move forward with that.”
On Thursday night, SGA hosted a Town Hall meeting to discuss the budgetary situation. At the event, which was attended by about 30 students, members of the SGA Cabinet listened to students’ grievances about last year’s overspending and encouraged feedback and suggestions that would help them more effectively formulate policies for the coming years.