A.S. Council Approves 2016-2017 Budget

The A.S. Council approved the budget for the upcoming 2016-17 school year on Wednesday evening at an open meeting held at Price Center Forum. The money appropriated in the budget comes from the accumulation of student fees, which amounts to almost $5.2 million this year.

Financial Controller Justin Pennish explained how a number of events converged to make this year’s budget one of the largest the A.S. Council has had in recent years.

“This year’s budget is a particularly strong one because the referendum increased the campus activity fee income that [the A.S. Council] receives, but also because we had some prior year rollover, and service and reserve income returned to [the council],” Pennish told the UCSD Guardian. “The fee increase, coupled with the rise in undergraduate attendance, expanded the pool of funds we had to work with.”

The meeting lasted about three hours, in which the entire council went through the document line by line, making revisions to specific line items and sharing its respective offices’ goals for the school year.

The newly created Office of Health and Wellness was a point of interest for many A.S. Council members due to the initially low allocation in program funding. Associate Vice President Jonathan Slowey drafted the language to create the office two years ago while working in the Office of the President to institutionalize a way for students to be involved with health and wellness campaigns. He cited the age of the office and its unique position as reasons for focusing on funding collaboration rather than programming, as well as his previous experience with the limitations of A.S. funding.

“Since this is the first year, most of the efforts of the office will go towards building a foundation for the upcoming years,” Slowey told the Guardian. “There are dozens of student-based health and wellness organizations on campus [we will work with throughout the year as well as] doing research on student health insurance and student health resources on campus, mainly as a way to gauge usage, understanding, accessibility, and the flow of money.”

Another office is experiencing a new impetus for expansion and support. Associate Vice President Omid Tabatabai of the Office of Spirit and Athletics explained his vision for athletics as a part of UCSD’s identity.

“The Division-I referendum certainly boosted morale not only in the athletes but in the students as well,” Tabatabai told the Guardian. “I envision that athletics can take us to that next level where people will definitely know who we are as a school … being able to attach yourself to something so big and be proud of it definitely feels rewarding in itself, and I look to continue bringing that positive spirit and energy in everything I do at UCSD.”

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has seen a dramatic increase in staff in order to expand connections to various resource centers around campus and to give students the opportunity to attend the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education. The Office’s Associate Vice President Minh-Hieu Vu reflected on the importance of growth in the context of the recent political dialogue surrounding diversity.

“We’ve expanded this year in staff and funding because traditionally, issues of equity, diversity and inclusion are put on the back burner,” Vu said. “Yet, as we have seen in this presidential election, marginalized communities are constantly under attack, and I believe there is an urgent responsibility to support underrepresented groups more than ever on our campus.”

Other notable line items from the budget included permanent item initiative and the art initiative from the Office of Student Organizations. Associate Vice President Angie Aguilar elaborated on how these allocated funds will be used to create opportunities for art-based events that have not been possible due to restrictions of A.S. funding policies for items that cannot be used up at a single event (such as art supplies).

“The purpose of the art initiative would be to fund organizations wanting to host art-focused events. We’re envisioning an application where organizations will describe events that they would like to host for the rest of the year, along with a budget breakdown, but nothing is set in stone as of now,” Aguilar told the Guardian. “This will just be a pilot program for now, but we are planning on suggesting our successors make it a permanent program when the time comes.”

Changes in this budget include the increase in A.S. senator stipends from $10 a week to $20, the collaboration of A.S. Side Rides with Uber for subsidized rides, the increase in funding for the Office of Spirit and Athletics in light of the Division I referendum and the expansion of Triton Television and Triton Outfitters equipment.

Pennish said this was the first time in several years that the A.S. budget has been at a surplus, which has opened up new opportunities to expand what AS can do to to improve our campus.

Because of [the increased pool of money], I was able to fully accommodate the budget request of each Associate Vice President office, as well as allocate funding to priorities such as the new A.S. Fellowship program, greater student organization funding [and] Triton Food Pantry expansion costs, among others,” Pennish told the Guardian.

The pie chart representing A.S. Council’s budget for the upcoming academic year has been updated to reflect the correct total of $5,171,256 derived from the Student Activity Fee.