Vartabedian, Scott toe-to-toe on new fee

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Student government administration and Western Administration are now at odds over the purpose and appropriation of the Student Success act fee.

At the Nov. 16 fee advisory meeting, Student Government Association President Jacob Scott questioned the need for the $75 fee for full-time students when the university has record millions in surplus in reserves. The fee, which was implemented in the fall of 2012, has collected roughly $600,000 to date.

“It wasn’t the Save Our Reserve Act. It was the Save Our School Act,” Scott said.

Scott, along with SGA members Travis Hart, Lauren Upton and Ashley Stegall were expecting that the money collected would be available for reappropriation after the university did not receive an anticipated budget cut for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

“I tried to be honest with people from the get-go,” Vartabedian said. “We had some major bottom line problems particularly if we were looking at a 12.5 percent cut even without that we still have a major bottom line problem at the university.”

Judy Grimes, interim vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, agreed with Vartabedian that the Student Success Act is an important contribution to the university budget and interpreted the act how it was written.

“What I don’t see in the act that was passed is anything that says we’re only going to appropriate this money from student fees if all these areas are totally wiped out,” Grimes said.

During the 2012 budget crisis, the Student Success Act was passed by SGA to ensure the protection of five programs. The five areas that were to receive funds from the act were Recreation Services, the Center for Academic Support, the Student Success Center, Student Life and Career Services. Scott is now questioning how those funds are being spent since the university budget never received a cut from the state.

“The president says that the money we approved will go to the five areas we said it would go to and that is true but the question still remains, what about the money that we pay in our tuition that goes to the previous areas?” Scott said.

Scott feels that the SGA has been misinformed as to where and how the money has been spent.

“I was told by the university administration that the money that was previously allocated to those five areas was sitting in an account waiting for us to decide how that money would be spent,” Scott said. “Then I got to the meeting on Friday and found out that the money had already been spent in the areas of which I don’t know yet. So I’m waiting to find that information out at the next meeting.”

Since the Student Success Act fee was included in the overall university budget instead of deposited into a separate account for SGA to reappropriate, the administration was able to withdrawal its funding from the five outlined programs to focus on university expenses such as deferred maintenance.

“Most of the leaders at that time understood that it wasn’t just the anticipation of that cut that troubled us,” Vartabedian said. “That it was millions and millions of dollars in deferred maintenance, enrollment that seemed to be getting smaller with fewer revenues for us, unfunded mandatories, and lot of other difficulties that we were dealing with.”

The itemized list of critical deferred maintenance includes Spratt and arena roofing, renovations to Popplewell, Wilson, and Potter and repaving parking lot H. The total cost of deferred maintenance is $4,039,000 and the Student Success Act collected approximately $600,000 during the fall semester alone. If the administration were to use the Student Success Act money for deferred maintenance it would account for 15 percent of the total costs.

“We have tremendous deferred maintenance needs on this campus that I don’t know how they are going to be met,” Vartabedian said. “Particularly if we don’t have an ongoing revenue source, which at least the Student Success Act helps us with in dealing with bottom line needs such as deferred maintenance. We have at least $4 million in deferred maintenance that would be in the absolutely essential category.”

While Vartabedian considers the Student Success Act fee a solution to some of the university’s reoccurring maintenance expenditures, Scott disagrees that the money should be appropriated to the campus maintenance.

“Deferred maintenance issues are a state problem,” Scott said. “That’s a university problem, that’s not a student problem.”

The administration and SGA’s interpretation of the Student Success Act differ; however, Scott hopes an end goal will be achieved.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think they know what we want; I’m optimistic though,” Scott said. “We can pull through this as a student body and as a university and administration. We can pull together as a cohesive unit and insure that students get what they deserve.”

The second Student Success Act committee meeting will be held Dec. 7 in the Presidential Dining Hall located in Blum Union at 4 p.m.

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