SU prepares for general budget session with advance meetings

| News Editor

Student Union finished conducting a series of preliminary meetings in preparation for their 2020-2021 general budget session, to be held on Feb. 15, after changing up the structure of the decision-making process.

This semester, teams of Senators and Treasury representatives conducted meetings with each group requesting funding to discuss the budgets that were submitted. Following the meetings, the section teams submitted their recommendations to guide VP of Finance junior Ariel Ashie in making a preliminary budget.

The previous process, which had every single budgetary conversation take place during the general session, was not effective according to Senator sophomore Dylan Cassilly.

“This year, instead of doing it all in one weekend, we are actually having all the discussions beforehand,” Cassilly said. “The general budget session will be more efficient because everyone will be more informed going into it.”

After last year’s budget initially failed to pass, a task force was implemented to improve the process.

“What that looks like is making sure everyone is prepped going into the session, that we have as much context around each of the requests as possible, and that we’re entering that space fully knowledgeable and ready to talk about how each of the requests is going to fit into our budget,” Ashie said.

SU has roughly $3.76 million for the coming year, comprising roughly 1% of the total tuition paid by undergraduate students. This year, they received $4.22 million in funding requests, leaving a difference of almost half of a million dollars.

According to Ashie, the biggest difference between the previous structure and the new process is that SU will begin the process with a budget based on the prior meetings and recommendations. Leading up to the general session on Feb. 15, Ashie will make cuts to balance the budget.

“I think we’ve taken as much input as we can prior to the session—we want to make sure that the time is purposeful,” Ashie said. “Last year the general budget session was 25 hours, so what we’ve done this year is taken that time and put it into these section teams to make sure that the conversation in our larger session is centered and grounded.”

After Ashie makes her proposed budget, it will be released to the general student body so that students will have an opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions.

“When Ariel sends the mass email with the proposal, there is still time leading up to the session for input and feedback,” Speaker of the Senate junior Steven Kish said. “Ariel and all of the Senate and Treasury Representatives are super open and would love to hear from any student who wants to tell us anything.”

Members of SU say they are trying to be more transparent with every step of the process.

“We’re going to livestream the general budget session again this year, because we really want people and student groups getting involved in this,” Cassilly said. “I think this new process has really facilitated more involvement because we actually had all the requesters coming in and giving us the rundown of everything in their budgets.”

In spite of the new structure, SU will still have to make some hard decisions, according to Speaker of the Treasury junior Alexa Jochims.

“We’re really focusing on preparation and engagement for everyone in the room heading into the session to make sure that we’re all informed about every request that we’re seeing,” Jochims said. “But we also have to recognize that everyone’s coming in with different values and priorities and as a result of that we do need to come to some sort of compromise.”

Compared to its peer institutions, Washington University puts a unique amount of power into the hands of students to determine how they want to spend their tuition funds, Cassilly said. This allows for increased flexibility and adaptability.

Kish and Ashie both emphasized the responsibility that the general budget process bestows upon SU and the importance of getting the student body involved in the process.

“General budget is one of those few times each year where students looking into Student Union can really see the impact of what we do and can really see the benefit that can come from their own involvement and from being an active constituent of Student Union,” Kish said.

“It’s a lot of power to center in the hands of a few people, so what we’ve really tried to do is make sure that at every opportunity we’re reaching out to as many people as possible to get their input,” Ashie said. “Getting as many people in the room as possible is the most responsible way to do that, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that this year.”

Kish added that more students should feel empowered to become involved in SU and actively participate in the budget-making process.

“If you’re looking at the general budget process and you want to be a part of what’s going on, now’s a great time to get involved—we have an election in one month,” Kish said. “If you don’t like something that’s going on and there are changes you want to see, again, get involved. General budget is one of the most directly impactful things that we do, and it’s one of those times where you can really see the change you can make if you choose to get involved.”

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