By SARAH VEENSTRA
Conestoga students are beginning to question exactly how the money they give Conestoga Students Inc. is spent.
As part of their tuition fees, every student at Conestoga pays a CSI capital development fee ($55.60 this term; $66.50 in the winter semester) a CSI association fee ($110 per semester) and a CSI – College Student Alliance (CSA) fee of $4.56 per semester.
CSA is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works with many college student associations and government agencies to improve the college experience.
It didn’t take long for students to take a hard look at CSI’s 2015/2016 budget. A simple Facebook remark on Spotted at Conestoga, an anonymous Facebook page promoting students to speak freely, was just the start.
“Spotted: Conestoga students paying for CSI’s parking passes,” said the anonymous source on Facebook.
While there’s no line item titled “Staff Parking Expenses” as Spotted at Conestoga suggests, at least not in the 2015/2016 budget report, CSI staff do have parking passes as an added benefit to their contract.
“We had our lawyers look into removing this as a benefit but it would have been a longer process than anticipated,” said Jeff Scherer, CSI president. “Employees cannot, by law, be forced to sign new employee contracts to remove the benefit. So, instead what we have decided is to ‘grandfather’ the benefit out of our employee contracts as we have staff turnover. However, this benefit is not and was never extended to the board of directors position.”
It wasn’t just parking students were questioning; staff cellphone expenses, the costs of board meetings and travel and retreat expenses were also on their list.
“It just seems like a lot of money that’s going to vague places,” said Erin Kurt, a second-year marketing student. “It doesn’t seem fair that we seem to overpay for things and live on a student budget while they have cellphones, laptops and meals handed to them from my tuition.”
Scherer said, “Our cellphone expense is for six phones belonging to three office managers, myself and our two shuttle drivers who are required by ministry to have a form of communication in case of emergency. The four managers are also required to have a cellphone in case of a number of emergencies, including myself as I’m the emergency contact for our board of directors when travelling and day-to-day scheduling.”
Scherer added that all cellphones are required to be turned in proper working order at the end of their term along with any laptops or computers that are also supplied for board members.
These costs are part of what makes up the $17,500 total under “Board Meetings,” an expense encompassing three functions, Scherer said.
“One is the laptops, second is board clothing, such as the sweaters and shirts they’re required to wear to any events and meetings that they attend,” said Scherer. “Lastly, board meals because of the time of our monthly meetings. We supply dinner which is most often takeout.”
The budget also shows CSI has a surplus or “net income” of $4,315, a number that as a non-profit, is supposed to be zero.
“Every year we budget our expenses below our anticipated revenues in order to give the board freedom to create and implement new programs,” said Scherer. “The surplus goes into services and programs that were either not originally budgeted for or services that need a higher budget than anticipated.”
Also included in the 2015/2016 budget was $130,000 allocated toward CSI and student improvements. This year, Scherer said that expense was put toward a new wellness office to be located in the newly renovated athletic and recreation centre following its completion. This money will also go toward refurnishing the Sanctuary Café with new dining and seating furniture.
“Our expense lines are not titled to fully explain their purpose and I would encourage anyone who has questions or concerns in regards to our budget to please contact me,” said Scherer. “I would be more than happy to go over their questions and concerns.”