SAC funding: A beginner’s guide

On Wednesday night, the Student Activities Commission held a roundtable to present preliminary ideas for their new funding guidelines, which they have entitled the “Comprehensive Budget System.” This system, which may debut as early as next semester, takes pieces from the two previous sets of funding guidelines (event-by-event and programming arc) and ties them together in a package that resembles the U.S. tax code.

Under the proposed system (nothing permanent has been written about it yet— these are still ideas), SAC’s fiscal pie would be divided into four slices: The comprehensive budget, an ad-hoc fund, a travel fund, and SAC reserves/ operational expenses.

Comprehensive budget

The comprehensive budget would be determined during a budget summit during the previous semester, and would assign bulk allocations based on group-determined descriptions of events. This process is similar to that of the programming arc, except that the event types would be eliminated in favor of straight attendance-and-cost values. Because there are no standardized event types, each budget would have to be approved by an appraisal of each line item. The allocation would be lump-sum, so groups would have the ability to move funds around from event to event as they saw fit. Here’s an outline of the approval process:

  • Before each semester, groups create comprehensive budgets, which include any organizational investments, the group’s mission, the event names and descriptions, and estimated space costs.
  • Groups are given the opportunity to present their budgets to the commission.
  • SAC evaluates budgets based on their reasonableness (determined by a catalog of criteria which includes relation to group’s mission, compliance with Access to Benefits, and equity among all SAC groups).
  • Groups have a chance to modify their budgets.
  • Final decisions on allocations are made by the commission.
  • Appeals can be made to Erika Cohen-Derr, director of the Center for Student Programs.
  • If these guidelines are instituted for Spring 2012, this process will last from November 11 to December 5.

This method involves going over budgets twice in the pre-semester period. This system would necessitate increased communication among group, commissioner, and commission, which would only help the process. On the other hand, this is hella complicated and risks alienating smaller groups who don’t care much for dealing with Georgetown bureaucracy.

The plan also calls for the inclusion of the group’s mission in its budget. SAC has been accused of making judgement calls about groups’s missions when deciding on funding, and it is debatable whether the inclusion of a group’s mission statement in the budget would increase or diminish this tendency (and this is thinking in the long-term, when commissioners haven’t experienced being placed in rhetorical stocks during funding forums). A problem could arise if the commission were to adhere to strictly to the wording of the mission statement when evaluating programming.

Mid-semester approval

This system is also similar to that of the programming arc, but groups would need to submit an Event Authorization form before each event in their budget. The Event Authorization form would be a simplified version of the Detailed Approval form, but instead of writing a paragraph explaining the event and how it contributes to the group’s mission, applicants would have to fill out 10 risk check-boxes. These boxes have items from the Office of Risk Management, like presence of alcohol, attendance over 200, and travel, and if any of the risk boxes are checked, the group would need to present the event in front of SAC. If none of them are checked, two commissioners can approve the event without the commission as a whole.

This new form will definitely be a boon for the majority of events on campus that aren’t too controversial.

Ad-hoc events

The amount of money in SAC’s second pocketbook, the ad-hoc fund, would be determined during the previous semester’s budget summit, and would allow SAC to make mid-semester allocations for unanticipated events, like dignitaries suddenly willing to speak on campus.

Here’s how it would work:

  • A groups fills out an Event Authorization form with event details, exact costs, cost justifications, and a reason why it wasn’t included on the budget, and then presents it at a SAC meeting.
  • If approved, the group is allocated the requested money, minus the budget reduction that was applied during the budget summit. (For instance, this semester, the allocations to all SAC groups was cut by 16% because more money was requested than could be allocated. An ad-hoc event would be subject to the same cut.)
  • The money can be spent only on that event.
  • Any $0 allocation events would be subject to this process as well.

The trouble that comes from the ad-hoc system is deciding how much money would be earmarked for ad-hoc events during the budget summit. But the unpredictability of how much money will be left for ad-hoc events at the beginning or at any point during the semester will hopefully incentivize groups to include everything in their comprehensive budgets. But then we run into the trouble that, if all or most groups accurately plan ahead, then the across-the-board budget cut would be increased to save money for the ad-hoc fund. Hmm.

Another problem would come from smaller groups not understanding the purpose of the ad-hoc fund, and treating it like the event-by-event system. Then less money would be left for truly unanticipated events. But stil,l this problem would really only be salient in the system’s first semester as groups learn to navigate the new system.

Travel

Under the comprehensive budget system, travel would be a pool of money separate from the comprehensive budget and the ad-hoc funds. This way, travel can be presented ad-hoc and not be subject to the across-the-board cuts that plagued the programming arc system. Furthermore, all travelling groups would be guaranteed funding at the below percentages.

After Spring 2012, groups could be funded for 60% of two total cost for two non-local trips, and 30% for a third. Any merit based travel would be funded 10% higher. Non-travel groups who wish to travel would be funded at a 10% lower rate.

The travel budget would be determined by previous semesters’s travel requests. If the guidelines are implemented for Spring 2012, the travel budget would be $31,000.

Everything else

The fourth category of money is basically everything else owned by SAC, including their reserves (the money they have left over that they would use to back their travel expenses) and operational expenses (the allocation SAC gives themselves to fund the copy machine and such, and that is not subject to across-the-board cuts).

Enforcement/penalties

In addition to changing the process by which money is allocated, SAC is changing some of its other policies too.

New to the funding guidelines scene are descriptions of what exactly violates the funding guidelines, and what the punishment is, besides “Access to Benefits Review.” Logistically, SAC can only audit groups at the end of the Spring semester, so any sanctions would (1) reflect both semesters’ worth of programming and (2) be enacted for the following academic year. Here are the infractions they outlined:

  1. The real attendance of an event being 25% lower than the anticipated attendance, if the anticipated attendance is over 75 people.
    1. Punishment: Allocation for the event may be reduced ex post facto
    2. Caveats: SAC will account for mitigating factors (like natural disasters) and provide opportunities for groups to reduce their allocation if the original estimate was erroneous.
    3. Loopholes: Groups reporting real attendance just above the threshold; groups anticipating 74 people coming to all events
  2. Over 10% in the red at the end of the semester
    1. Punishment: That money removed from the allocation next semester
    2. Caveats: There are plans in motion to give groups online access to information about their cost center; “10%” will be refined in the future
    3. Loopholes: Basically giving groups an extra 10% of allocaiton
  3. Groups not fulfilling planned events
    1. Punishment: Groups will lose 110% of the allocation if they remove the event; 115% of the allocation if they do not complete it
    2. Caveats and loopholes: This one is pretty straightforward. Since “having an event” would be submitting a form that says you won’t serve alcohol among other things, the only excuse for not completing an event is gross negligence
  4. Falsifying an Event Authorization form.
    1. Punishment: Kind of hazy, but up to loss of Access to Benefits

Additional information:

Everything SAC does (barring extreme cases) would be open and transparent.

Treasurers would be required to attend SAC training to learn the details of this process. Yes, this would be in addition to treasurer training, DBC training, OCAF training, and would surmount to 3.5 hours of quasi-“continuing professional education” per semester. Just in case you were wondering, CPAs in D.C. are required to participate for 40 hours per year.

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