AS sets spending record in final meeting of semester

The 2015-16 AS Board of Directors lines up for a photo at their final meeting of the year. (Adam R. Thomas)

On Monday, May 23, the final meeting of the Associated Students (AS) Board of Directors was held, as usual, on the open floor of the Cayton Center. As with many years before it, this year saw a deluge of last minute budget proposals come to the board for approval, with 33 different action items that the board had to choose whether or not to fund.

Led by sleep-deprived President Jesse Randel, the AS board managed to tear through the long list of items in record time. The outgoing board still managed to set another record during their brief meeting, for the sheer amount of money spent at a final board meeting, with over $370,000 requisitioned for current and future expenses — a fitting end to a year where they spent over 50 percent more than the prior year's board.

"I don't mean to be short. I apologize in advance to the entire board, I know it's our last meeting but I haven't slept, so bear with me," said Randel after hearing the Model UN Club pitch their request to send a member to Prague. The board approved the request along with all of the Consent Action Items in a bundle, allowing them to cut 18 items out of their agenda immediately.

There was a light tone throughout the meeting as they moved through the list, and jokes flew freely as everyone partook of pastries, provided by the Director of Budget Management Samuel Ross, while breezing through their work.

After approving the Chamber Music Club's requisition for $1,164.17 for equipment and sheet music with a unanimous vote, Randel announced to the room, “Alright. with that we finished all student spending. The rest is our [AS] spending. So buckle up people, it's about to get expensive."

The board laughed loudly in response, but it was clear by the meeting’s end that he wasn’t joking.

One of the more notable expenditures was the board’s decision to give next year's AS board a pay raise, doubling the allotment that board members receive for expenses over a semester from $500 to $1,000. The board agreed in a unanimous vote that it was more than earned considering the large amount of time they spent each week working in student government.

Ross said, “If directors can spend less time having to work to support themselves and more time dedicated here I think that's a benefit to the student that outweighs the cost."

With the pay for the upcoming Terrance Ware administration increased, the board cut through numerous Major Action Items (measures costing over $1,000) with minimal debate and unanimous votes, until they came to a dead stop over the most expensive proposal of the day: Director of Student Assistance Johnathon Hughes' proposition to create a $150,000 endowment for the Student Success Award — a scholarship handed out by AS — so it could be funded in perpetuity.

Hughes opened the issue by declaring its merits, saying, “If every board for the next 10 years allocated the same amount of money that we allocate now, then we would get the same amount of scholarships that we currently give out, for the rest of the college's life."

Considerable debate occurred among the board members over the measure, with the opposition led by Ross. Ross’ primary complaint was that it would be permanent and prevent flexibility for future AS boards. He said, “There would be no way of undoing this. That's one of the reasons we have to re-approve so many things each year. It gives us a choice. This would remove a choice from every future AS board.”

There was also concern that since the endowment would be handled by the SMC Foundation, the AS board would lose the ability to choose which students would receive scholarships in the future. Eventually, the issue was settled by Academic Computing Instructional Specialist Lee Peterson, who works in the Cayton Computer lab.

“My labor union has given the foundation an endowment fund," Peterson said. "The foundation has been very agreeable with us for years and years and years on helping us set up our committee and how we're going to administer it. . . We've lived off the interest and we've had a scholarship every year since at least 1990 from one single donation. That's how an endowment works."

[pullquote speaker="Associated Students President Jesse Randel" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]Alright. with that we finished all student spending. The rest is our [AS] spending. So buckle up people, it's about to get expensive.[/pullquote]

The measure passed with only three nay votes, and was the only issue to receive any nays for the entire meeting. All others passed unanimously.

Of course, the measure’s high expense helped lead to the massive amount of money requisitioned at the meeting in total, which Ross announced at the meeting’s end to be totaling $378,707.49.

This isn’t out of the ordinary for the 2015-16 AS Board of Directors either — it's been a consistent trend. After careful review of the all of the AS Minutes for the last semester and year, the board had approved $1,684,238.10 in encumbered expenses. Subtracting the $702,015 put aside for the Big Blue Bus Anytime program that is a mandate for AS, the board approved a total of $982,223.10, a roughly 55 percent increase over the expenditures made by the previous year’s board.

This would also seem to put the board over-budget, as the AS had an operational budget of about $1.4 million at the start of the year, except for the fact that many of the budgeted items were “not to exceed” amounts, and many have cost far less than were budgeted for. According to Ross, who spoke to The Corsair about the large amount of encumbered expenses the board requisitioned all year on this point, the final expenditures should come out to $1,165,746.73.

Ross wrote via email, “Ideally, yes, AS wouldn't get over encumbered. But I think it would've been crazy to let certain arbitrary distinctions impede the good work we were able to fund.”

Still, the board seemed quite proud of their achievements throughout the year. After they finished the work of approving this expensive final meeting in record time, the board members used their director’s reports to deliver kind words of thanks and appreciation to each other.

Director of Sustainability Heather Haro summed things up by saying, “I'm just going let myself get sentimental for a moment. I feel really lucky to know you all. It's been a great year."