Debate over scantron program heats up

Debate over the cost of the highly successful Associated Students (AS) program to hand out free scantrons and blue books to students became heated at the AS Board meeting on Monday, Feb. 29 in the Cayton Center. At issue was the fact that the AS has seen the cost to purchase the test materials vastly increase since the program began in the Spring semester of 2014. According to Director of Instructional Support Martha Linden, the AS Board had spent as much on the program in the fall 2015 semester as it had for the entire previous 2014-15 year — $15,000 — with an additional $3,000 spent on the materials in the Winter 2016 semester alone.

“This is a relatively new program for AS — it started Spring 2014. It was a line item for $2000 for scantrons only. It evolved to blue books and many different scantrons but it got to be way out of hand,” said Linden.

The ballooning cost appears to be caused by the successful outreach of the AS board to promote the program. According to AS Director of Publicity Kishore Athreya, a concerted effort has been made by the 2015-16 Board of Directors to inform students that paying their AS dues allows them to acquire two scantrons and one bluebook per day from the AS offices located in the Cayton Center, room 202.

“We've really pushed this year to make sure that students are aware of their benefits. I can't speak for past boards but we've really made that push this year. Even in my own personal time when in class, I tell the teachers [about the program],” said Athreya after the meeting was finished.

Athreya also stated that there was no fixed cost for the test materials in the AS budget saying, “Based on the constitution and bylaws, there is no specific amount set for scantrons and blue books.”

Linden brought the issue up for discussion to the board after realizing that the costs were mounting, not only financially, but in terms of time spent handing out the materials as well. Office workers in room 202 had been spending large parts of their days come mid-terms and finals week handing out the materials to students. Linden said during the discussion, “I think a main concern is time consumption at the front desk.”

The board of directors debated many of the finer points on how to solve the issue, with many stressing the fact that the AS budget comes from the student body itself and that the program was a direct benefit to students on campus. Proposed solutions to the problem included a limitation on the number of items students could potentially obtain from AS at a given time, using a vending machine to distribute the items, and finding a lower cost supplier for them. AS board members stated that they currently purchased the test materials from the SMC bookstore at the same cost the bookstore does.

After excited exchanges between board members during the debate, the floor was turned over to students who wanted to voice their own opinions on the topic.

SMC student Laura Vega said, “From what I heard, every student can come to the AS office every day and ask for a blue book and a scantron. So obviously, we're not all doing that but we're allowed to. So if a student comes every once in a while to ask for one or two scantrons, what's the problem?”

Madeleine Turner, another SMC student who voiced her opinion during the exchange, made a passionate plea saying, “I just wanted to say, as a student who is really committed to Academic success, the scantrons and blue books are a boon. The people who need them the most are the people who can't afford them, and the people who can't afford them are sometimes the people who don't have the information about how to get them. So if we start restricting them, then we're taking them away from people who need them the most.”

Tempers visibly flared after Director of Activities Amber Winter wondered why there had been repeat visits from students requesting multiple scantrons per day over several days in a row. Student Advisor Benny Blades could be heard saying, “. . . selling them” offhand.

AS President Jesse Randel admonished Blades for the remark. Blades then apologized, but near the end of the discussion Randel elaborated on his frustration with the attitude that had been expressed by the Student Advisor in an impromptu speech.

“I hate that outlook! Most students here are trying to get their work done, they're trying to be good students . . . furthermore there's no law or regulation saying that we need to police people on how they use their scantrons and blue books. If a student gets two scantrons and blue books and then goes and burns them or throws them in the trash, that's his prerogative! . . . I will say that if I hear that language, regardless of who it comes from, I will say something. Because I have a big issue with the perspective that certain parts of this school have towards students. That we are all just inherently dishonest and out to game the system. That is not the issue and I would appreciate it not being continued," said Randel.

The meeting adjourned with the issue tabled, to be further investigated by Linden and AS Director of Student Assistance Johnathon Hughes. Speaking to the Corsair after the AS meeting ended, Linden stressed that she had no intention to end the program but was worried about its cost in both time and money.

Linden said, “This is a really heated discussion and I like it. It means that [students] care about this program and want it to continue, but this is really a time and a money issue. It's under my bylaws to always make this thing available, but it costs so much money."