A call for CS40 budget transparency

On Tuesday night, the Congress of the South Forty proposed its budget for the upcoming year. CS40 brings laudable programming to the South Forty every semester, however, as students, we must weigh the benefits of activities we pay for against their costs. This is not a binary issue: there is no question that CS40 greatly augments the college experience of those who live on the 40. However, we ought to consider whether the Congress of the South 40’s activities really justify the tremendous cost to students.

A quick review of last year’s approved budget shows that the CS40 collected approximately $422,700 in income and incurred expenses totalling $421,440. That’s a lot of money, plain and simple. But where does it all go?

Consider Student Union, the governing body of the entire undergraduate community, with a budget of roughly $2.4 million. With this money, SU is expected to fund numerous activities and student groups. The largest campus activities, such as W.I.L.D., draw their funds directly from SU. In short, the student government has an enormous fiduciary responsibility to the campus community. We entrust them to manage such significant resources with the understanding that they provide detailed breakdowns of where the money goes.

This is not entirely the case with the Congress of the South 40. Like SU, CS40 represents a large contingent of students and manages a prodigious amount of money. However, CS40 has much less accountability, and at times, its spending seems to be superfluous beyond its mission. CS40’s mission statement asserts that it “…strive[s] to improve the lives of residents by providing a variety of ways for them to participate in their residential areas, play a leadership role on campus and get involved in the Wash. U. and St. Louis communities.” We are concerned that some of its expenses are excessive for the fulfillment of this worthy goal.

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CS40’s budget for fiscal year 2010 includes significant perks for the five executive officers. Last year, each officer was paid a salary (as it’s called in the official budget) of $7,656.00—the yearly cost of a double room on the 40. These officers effectively get free housing or, should they wish to have a modern single room, significantly subsidized housing.

In addition, the budget contained $14,200.00 for a retreat, a worthwhile activity, but one that far exceeds the cost of a similar SU retreat, which is expected to cost $5,000 next year. There was also a “Business Manager” salary (for someone different from the group’s adviser) that cost another $22,836.00. The aforementioned totals $75,316. For a group led by five underclassmen and one adviser, spending 17.82 percent of the predominately student-funded budget on its leadership seems both excessive and out of line with its initial mission statement.

Other line items on the budget are simply too vague considering the sums of money being used on their behalf. For instance, a $14,000 lump sum for the “Finance Committee” seems excessive without a breakdown of where all of this money goes. To us, CS40’s budget seems opaque at best.

Perhaps most significantly, CS40’s allocated budget is determined not by its needs as a student group, but by the cost of housing. Rather than pay a flat fee every year, the amount students give to CS40 is calculated as a percentage of students’ room and board. We believe it may be time to reconsider this method. At the very least, CS40 must do a better job of justifying its continually-increasing revenue.

In its defense, the CS40 puts on a lot of good programming. WUStock and South 40 Week are great events. The Residential College Olympics attracts numerous Forty-dwellers to the swamp for merriment, food and friendly competition. Funding the various events of each residential college is essential to fostering close relationships amongst students in groups of dorms. Clearly, the problem is not that CS40 is doing a bad job with its programming.

The real issues that need to be considered are why CS40 has as much money as it does, why such a large portion seems to benefit only select members of the CS40 executive board, and why CS40’s financial reporting is not as detailed as that of other governing student bodies. For all of the money Wash. U. students have paid to the Congress of the South 40, its members owe it to the students to show that their funds are being used as well as they possibly can be used.

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