Another tight budget for the Student Activities Commission forced the organization to approve 72.5 percent of the $122,755 student organizations requested during the first run of its new bulk allocation system. SAC currently has $5,578 to allocate for the rest of the semester. Anything left over will roll over into next semester.
“Our budget has generally flatlined over the past three years,” said Harrison Holcomb (NHS ’11), vice chair of SAC.
The finalized and approved budgets for each group will now be faced with an across-the-board 27.5 percent cut in their allocations to keep SAC within the confines of its budget.
This decrease is significant. The International Relations Club’s funding amount before the change, according to SAC commissioner Ruiyong Chen (SFS ’13), was $15,846. That amount has decreased to $11,488.35 with the new cuts. In the 2009 fiscal year, the IRC received $18,733.10.
On Monday, SAC formalized its funding allocations for the coming semester. A total of $89,000 was awarded to its member organizations. $77,000 came from SAC’s general budget, and SAC decided it would reclaim an additional $12,000 from fall semester to help minimize the reductions necessary to accommodate last spring’s large requests. The commission held back $3,000 for its contingency fund.
Last spring, SAC was able to dole out around $80,000 to groups so they could put on events, hold meetings and promote their organizations.
Although this year’s budget is a slight increase of 1.5 percent in the approval rate over last year, strained budgets have been a theme for SAC in recent years as the amount of money the body has on hand to allocate has held level while general costs have been on a steady rise.
Gas prices, food costs and rental service fees have all been trending upwards. For example, the cost of having Department of Public Safety officers at an event, which is required in a number of instances such as if cash will be collected, soared this summer. On July 1 the hourly rate for each officer jumped from $23.75 to $40.25.
But budget woes are only half the story of this semester’s allocation rounds.
New policies – which represent the first major overhaul to SAC funding regulations since 1992 – have changed the status quo for how the money will be divvied up among the groups and their desired events.
Under the old system, groups put forth ideas and budgets on an event-by-event basis and whatever money they received had to be used for those specific events, with minor exceptions and flexibilities.
Now groups put forth entire semester budgets, known as funding arcs, for which they still provide specific event proposals but are allocated money in a bulk system. This allows groups to organize and spend that money across events as they see fit, so long as all events adhere to a basic quality level put forth in the groups’ initial proposal.
The new guidelines have been generally heralded by groups as a positive move, but the new regulations, to some degree, have tilted and adjusted which events get favored and which get marginalized.
Overall, groups feel these new policies are seeing large-scale items suffer while giving groups more flexibility and opportunity when it comes to smaller events.
This means more freedom for groups to decide how much to spend on each of the events it promised SAC it would host but less for top-dollar engagements.
“It’s good in some ways and bad in others,” said Vanessa Radelmiller (COL ’11), president of Club Filipino, about SAC’s new allocation system.
She said her organization enjoys the increased wiggle room and decreased bureaucracy the new system promotes.
But it has put the fate of the group’s largest event of the year, Bayanihan, in jeopardy and forced club leaders to look elsewhere for additional funding.
“We’ve been thinking about other options, other grants like the Re-Imagine Georgetown Grant,” Radelmiller said.
But the group remains skeptical about whether they would get all of the money necessary to put a show on with the same kind of spark as they had in the past.
“It’s been hard,” said Radelmiller, on what she and other longtime group members are feeling. “We’ve had to swallow our pride a bit.”
Overall, though, she thought the new format helped in some areas, like recruiting and organizing smaller events.
“It definitely makes it so much easier to do little things,” she said.
Chen believes the new pressure on groups to fundraise independently is not a downside and that the new freedoms with how the money is spent should not have major effects on big-ticket events.
“SAC allocates a bulk budget to the groups. . If they get allocated more money for a small event that doesn’t need as much, the group is empowered to use the remainder of the funds on another larger event,” Chen said.
Holcomb gave some credit to groups like Club Filipino that felt the new rules were affecting larger events.
“[Groups] might see more money for movie nights,” Holcomb said. “But major events are probably going to feel more pressure.”
Another organization, the International Relations Club, which pushed for the new system and supports it, has been adjusting and weighing out its pros and cons.
“At its most basic level, bulk allocation has been something that the IRC supported,” said Eitan Paul (SFS ’12), the chair of the IRC.
With well over 200 members, the IRC is one of the largest student groups on campus and has welcomed the decreased level of bureaucracy and oversight.
While the IRC still relies on SAC for a majority of its funding, the stakes may be smaller for this well-established and well-connected organization that says it has other outlets, such as the School of Foreign Service dean’s office, for help with funding its largest events.
While Paul said the system still has some kinks to be worked out, he said he likes the new changes.
“We definitely favor there being a bulk allocation system,” he said.
The shift in SAC’s budget screening and allocation process stemmed from groups’ responses to a joint Georgetown University Student Association and SAC-sponsored survey from last year. A large majority pushed for bulk allocation, and the decreased restrictions and hassles that come with it, and a large number of stakeholders are optimistic about the changes.
With or without a new funding system, SAC’s budget will most likely be under a tight squeeze into the foreseeable future.
“The reality of the situation is that SAC cannot fund all of the events that groups request,” Chen said.”