S&A makes big changes: drama, music and travel programs could be losing funding

Big changes are coming for the future of student programs at Bellevue College. The Services and Activities Fees Committee (S&A) has recommended cutting funding to several programs due to concerns about appropriate use of those funds. According to the 2020-2021 S&A Budget Allocation Summary, drawn up by the S&A Fees Committee, vocal & choral music programs, instrumental music programs, student travel programs like the Model UN and the Civil Rights Pilgrimage and several other programs historically funded, at least in part, through S&A dollars will receive nothing for the upcoming school year. Some groups are allowed to retain rollover funding for use during the “transition year,” and others have had funding withheld pending an institutional review.

The S&A budget comes from a percentage of students’ tuition set by the state legislature. Each year The Office of Student Programs forms a committee of four students and three professional staff to recommend a budget based on requests from various student programs. They then submit their recommendation to the Bellevue College Board of Trustees for approval. This year the budget totaled $2.8 million.

Colleges and universities use the Killian Guidelines to create procedures for and make decisions on apportioning S&A funds. The guidelines describe what types of programs are eligible for S&A funds and how to allocate the budget. The funds are to be reserved for “college co-curricular or extracurricular activity participated in by students in the furtherance of their education,” according to Killian. “Students are expected to have a strong voice in recommending budgets for S&A fees,” but the final say rests with the college’s Board of Trustees.

The S&A Fees Committee cited restrictions in the Killian document as their rationale for some of the funding cuts. Programs like the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, Model UN, Dance, Drama and music all have classes that run in tandem with or adjacent to them that give students the skills they need to participate. According to the S&A Appeals Decision document, this disqualifies these programs for funding. The Killian document does not define what “curricular” means, giving the committee latitude to decide whether something is more curricular as opposed to co-/extracurricular.

In a document titled S&A Fee Use-Compliance and Guidelines, created to guide voting members of the committee, the BC administration interprets the Killian requirements to mean “A class cannot be required for an experience that is funded by S+A and S+A funds.” However, this is not stated explicitly in the Killian document.

This change leaves many organizations with uncertainties on how to proceed. Some programs, like the Model UN, are considering taking steps to align themselves more closely with BC administration’s interpretation of the Killian Guidelines.

In addition to concerns over adherence to the Killian document, some programs will be undergoing a review “regarding clarity of recordkeeping” and “potential expenditure of funds” that the committee was unable to make a determination on, according to ASG president and a voting member of the S&A Fees Committee, Emmanuel Tshimanga.

The cuts are causing student and faculty leaders to turn to other financial resources to keep their programs running. Unfortunately, few alternatives exist for groups that do not fit under the instruction budget but still have classes peripherally or directly linked to them. Programs like jazz bands are not eligible for funds from the instruction budget, and there is currently no budget on campus set up to fund a short-term travel for programs like Model UN.

While some historically funded student organizations are facing changes in the upcoming year, the cuts are helping to allocate more dollars to the overall “Student Programs Support” (SPS) budget. In the past four years, SPS has seen its funding nearly double, from $260,000 to $456,000 for 2020. This budget provides supplemental funding to groups under the Student Programs umbrella, many student-run clubs and affinity groups can tap into these funds. With more funds, the Student Programs department could support additional resources for clubs such as staffing, leadership training and club events. However, a large part of the increase is to pay administrative salaries, including Director of Student Programs Carrie Moore.

“For 2019-2020, a special request was made to temporarily fund the Director’s salary and benefits for one year so that state funds could be used for critical staff in another area that was not eligible for S+A funding,” said President Tshimanga. But S&A funds going to pay administrator salaries necessarily means they are not available for other student groups.  

SPS is not the only group receiving more money this year than in years past. While some groups have seen cuts, others are seeing massive increases. The student business center alone is looking at a potential increase of $99,144 from last year. This year’s budget is set to allocate $80,000 to DECA, up from $11,500 last year. BC athletic programs have all seen steady increases in funding over the past few years. This year they are set to receive more than $11,000 in additional funding across all programs. Even The Watchdog could be seeing an increase, up more than $40,000 from last year.

In the end, funding from S&A is not something any student program can rely on. “Funding by S&A is never guaranteed year to year for anyone,” said President Tshimanga. “No program can assume they will be funded in the future, even though they were funded in the past.” The distribution of funds is up to the discretion of the S&A committee and the Board of trustees each year.

This year’s budget recommendation was given to the Board of Trustees this Wednesday, May 20, for their approval. Students and faculty were signed up to speak during the meeting, which the Board of Trustees will conduct remotely using Microsoft Teams, to petition the Board to reconsider the changes. We will have more as the story continues to develop.