WLUSU passes deficit budget
A $25,000 amendment to the operating budget proposed by director Andrew Fryer at the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union board of directors meeting on April 13 has resulted in confusion and discrepancy within the union.
After the board approved the capital expenditures and student services portions of the budget, Fryer’s amendment, which was passed 6-4, added $25,000 to the board’s budget for a market research project.
The intention is that WLUSU will hire an external firm to conduct this research but further details, including where exactly these funds will come from, is still unknown.
“I don’t really know at this point,” said board chair Saad Aslam.
“Nothing was removed. Everything else stayed the same and everything else was passed prior, so this was just $25,000 added on.
“To be honest, I’m not too sure how this will work out,” said Aslam.
Fryer, who is pushing the board to re-evaluate WLUSU’s ends – overall goals that guide the union – ran on a platform of conducting a census to gauge student input on the future direction of the students’ union.
Though he says that the “kernels were there” to put forth some kind of market research proposal, the amendment was more of a spur of the moment decision.
“I saw this budget going by, it’s sort of like your last chance to get any resources for big projects and if I had missed this bus, I would have been out there handing out my own survey that I typed up on my laptop,” said Fryer.
Those in attendance at the meeting were caught off-guard by the amendment, as they had no idea such a proposal would be coming from director Fryer.
“I was kind of surprised because we were charged with creating a zero-balance budget,” said WLUSU president Laura Sheridan.
This means that after taking into account student fees and business profits the students’ union should break even on the services they offer.
Now that the amendment has been added, the union’s budget has a $25,000 deficit.
Fryer noted that, as the governing body of the corporation, the board is exempt from the rules of WLUSU, including zero-balance based budgeting.
“When we pass a budget for ourselves, we can create a budget that we knowingly know we need to take a loan out for,” said Fryer.
“The board’s priorities are above those of the rest of the corporation. “The worst case scenario … is that we’ll have to nibble away at the operating budget, that of management, and find the money in those places.”
Stephanie Francis, a director who voted against the amendment, noted that though management is obligated to fulfill the requests of the board, they need to be considerate of what they are asking them to do.
“We do need to take into consideration the feasible aspects of our requests,” said Francis. “I don’t think we should set up our management team to fail.”
Naz Abdulla, assistant vice-president of finance, noted that he is working with the WLUSU’s controller Larry Wraith to find the most effective way to move forward with this project that doesn’t include shaving away from Waterloo’s central budget.
Though WLUSU has about $9,000 in reserve funds, Abdulla says that because they are a not-for-profit they should break even every year.
“We didn’t go the route of communicating how not-for-profits budgets work [to the board], so I think that was the missing link on our part,” said Abdulla.
“But from a logical sense it should have been understood.”
Abdulla said that right now there are two options he is contemplating: asking the board to re-amend the $25,000 of allotted market research funds or combine this project with one management is planning to undertake.
$7,500 has been approved for a public affairs’ research project.
Though Fryer “see[s] the board as taking the reigns on this 100 per cent,” the board chair and management think that such a project should be undertaken by the public affairs department with board consultation.
“When you look at the job descriptions and what each group is supposed to do, it makes sense [for management] to do something as operational as this project…. It specifically says in JR’s job description that he is the key person for market research,” said Sheridan.
Joel Robinson, vice-president of public affairs, hopes that the board and management will be able to collaborate and work together on these marketing projects, using both sets of funds.
“I don’t think market research should be strictly under board or management,” said Robinson.
“It’s something that we all need to find out, whether it’s the board’s mandate to represent
students or the management groups’ job to do the operational side.
However, Francis notes that the cost-effectiveness of the market research is something that the union needs to take into account when deciding how the project will move forward from here.
“That’s quite a large sum of money,” said Francis.
“More consideration needs to be taken into if more … cost-efficient substitutes [can be found].”