Off the Table

After A.S. President Wafa Ben Hassine miscalculated almost $350,000 in the revision of the executive budget, A.S. Council decided last night to postpone the approval of the budget until next week.

The discrepancy was due in part to confusion over which administrative services the council needed to fund, as well as errors in predicting sources of revenue.

“There was miscommunication over some of the line items,” Ben Hassine said. “It was primarily a miscalculation between me, the [Director of Student Life Business Office] and VP of Finances regarding the effective employee benefit rate. The figures didn’t add up.”

The effective employee benefit rate — or the money that council pays for its non-student staff — is to $145,016.43. In the first of two revisions, this number was not included in the total allocation of $2,487,648.04. Council stipends totaling $116,752.87 also were not included to the total allocations.

According to Warren College Senator Maclen Zilber — who brought the miscalculations to Ben Hassine’s attention Tuesday night after the first budget draft was presented on Oct. 9 — Ben Hassine was not aware the council funded the benefits for non-student staff members. She believed the university subsidizes these benefits and thus did not include this money in her total allocations.

Ben Hassine said that Ang thought the university pays for the non-student staff members

“I alerted the president, Wafa Ben Hassine, about [the mistakes],” Zilber said. “She did not seem to understand the arithmetic error that I was pointing out to her, which was that stipends and staff benefits were not included in her budget, until [Tuesday] night.”

Zilber then consulted with Student Life Business Officer John Hughes, Student Life HR Specialist Masooda Sajady, Director of A.S. Admin. Lauren Weiner and Executive Assistant Heather Belk, who all confirmed that Associated Students as responsible for this cost.

Though there is a typical overallocation of $150,000 to ensure that student fees are being used for the current year and not carried over, the exclusion of stipends and employee benefit costs totaled the overallocation at $464,374.76 for the first draft.

After Ben Hassine and Vice President of Finance and Resources Andrew Ang became aware of this problem, they created a revised budget that evening that contained further errors. This newly revised version of the budget — which factored in the stipends but not the employee benefit rate — was sent to the council five hours before the group’s weekly 6 p.m. meeting.

The second revision included a stipend of $117,383.33, increased estimated enrollment and Short-Term Investment Pool money but not the effective employee benefit rate. This draft had an overallocation of $349,389.97.

Though the original draft calculated the council’s revenue based on a correct enrollment number of 21,850, Ben Hassine changed the enrollment number to 22,100 in reference to last year’s estimated enrollment. This change added $30,031.64 to the budget.

Ben Hassine then consulted with Hughes, who confirmed that the 21,850 number was correct. The original enrollment statistic will be used in the newest budget, which will be included in the draft for next week’s meeting, although it is still an estimate since the actual number will not be finalized until the end of Fall Quarter. In preparation for next week’s meeting, they will use this number.

“It’s safer for us to use this number in case we don’t have enough students,” Ben Hassine said.

In addition, she changed the estimated revenue for STIP to $80,000 in the latest revision, whereas the correct number was $28,000. This  $52,000 “revenue” would have come from the council’s mandate reserves.

“When she corrected for stipends [on Tuesday] night, she still didn’t correct for benefits and she couldn’t come up with the money to counteract it, so she kind of magicked $80,000 out of the ether,” Zilber said. “She said that our short-term investment pool was now going to yield $80,000 instead of $28,000. And she said our estimated enrollment had gone up.”

“Ang told me that the STIP was $20,000 for one quarter. So times three, it is $80,000,” Ben Hassine said.

The other change that will be incorporated into next week’s draft is the All Campus Graduation Celebration line item, which will not be included under the Office of the President’s budget. According to Ben Hassine, the Student Life office said they do not need funds from A.S. Council anymore.

Sixth College Senator Parminder Sandhu said the miscalculations show mismanagement in the Office of the President.

“I feel sad for the condition of the Office of the President,” Sandhu said. “This is the person who represents 21,000 undergraduates, not respecting the Associated Students, not fulfilling duties to the level that should be expected.”

Other disagreements regarding the budget arose between Ben Hassine and Ang. Last week, Ang removed his name from the sponsorship of the budget due to disagreements over the allocations of three line items: the diversity training initiative, the Black Student Union’s Kwanzaa celebration and the general initiatives under the Office of the President.

According to Ang, the newly added diversity training initiative should not require funding, since an online training program already exists that can be used in place of the initiative.

“There’s no precedence to back that up,” Ang said. “I looked up the breakdown of what it would be used for. It doesn’t cost $2,000. I spoke with the VP of Student Life [Kristina Pham], who oversees the Office of Diversity, and we came to terms that we can use diversity programming for it and take out diversity training and initiatives.”

Ang said his decision to remove his endorsement from the budget was partially based on Ben Hassine’s refusal to remove the line item.

“I spoke to the overseeing parties, yet the president insisted that we needed to have it,” Ang said. “I didn’t see any logistical reasoning why we had to have it  — we had a perfectly fine line item to use it from. It would be fiscally irresponsible to add in the line item just to have it there.”

Ang added that the general initiative line item — a $5,000 amount that is allocated for the entire council — should not be under the Office of the President.

“I am not in favor of the general initiative because it counts as a discretionary line item for [Ben Hassine],” Ang said. “Basically, she can use the funds for however she wishes. There would be no overseeing factor and she gets $5,000 in her office. And I am 100 percent against miscellaneous nontransparent use of funds.”

But in the second draft of the fall budget, Ben Hassine changed the title of a $5,000 line item under the Office of the President called “General Initiatives” to “Community Development,” and directed the money toward funding a press secretary, student advocacy campaigns and a bottle water campaign.

Another point of contention was over the annual Kwanzaa celebration, which is a tradition event organized by the BSU.

“We disagreed on whether we should be funding BSU’s Kwanzaa, which is a tradition event that has been around for over a decade,” Ben Hassine said. “[Losing] it would be very detrimental to student life.”

Ang said he did not want to allocate funds to the event because the BSU did not reply to his e-mail inquiries regarding funding and therefore did not follow proper protocol. Councilmembers cited communication discrepancies and organization transition problems as the reasons for the lack of response.

“[Them not replying to e-mails] showed that they didn’t care enough to get money,” Ang said. “It’s my responsibility to help the organization out, but if I can’t get a reciprocated action from them for them to do their part, there’s nothing else I can really do.”

Ang said that, despite the BSU neglecting funding protocol, the president decided to include the traditional event in the budget.

“I really don’t see the reason why she put it back in because, when you do a budget, you should be objective in the way you allocate everything because you can’t favor one office over another,” Ang said. “I was unbiased in my procedure to allocate funds and to get the tradition events. By putting it in, she neglected all the protocols used.”

Ang said that he and Ben Hassine — who, under the ASUCSD Constitution, is in charge of formulating and submitting the annual budget to the council — had not worked on the budget since last Spring Quarter. Though the VP Finance usually only assists with the budget, he said that he offered to help her with allocations because Ben Hassine had been preoccupied with her LSATs.

“Last week, I contacted the president [and asked] ‘Do you need help doing the budget?’ And then she had to study for LSATs — that’s a test of a lifetime you have to take,” he said. “The budget was coming up and she had her LSATs last Saturday and, of course, I would help her out regardless, but at the same time, it’s also the president’s responsibility to do the budget.”

Ben Hassine said Ang assisted by providing the numbers and information for the budget.

“Unfortunately, bad numbers gives bad results,” Ben Hassine said.

At the council meeting, the BSU Vice Chair of External Affairs Victor Brown argued that removing the funding would be a blow to the organization.

“To see it lose its funding and to see it lose its tradition is disheartening because it loses the legacy to the past and current Black Student Union,” Brown said.

The decision on whether BSU will receive funding for the Kwanzaa celebration will be made at next week’s meeting.

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