Columns / Discourse / October 23, 2019

Murky budgeting process requires change

Half of the paper is now in black and white. The decision is part of cutting costs after I received TKS’ final budget from Student Senate which was 27.1% lower than what I had planned.

Our budget comes out of the Student Activity Fee, which is currently $384 per student for the year. So, a drop in enrollment will clearly mean a smaller fund from that fee. Given the drop in enrollment was more than expected, the fund is even smaller than was anticipated in the Spring.

Senate and the Student Life Committee (SLC) therefore made cuts to the publication and club budgets. The process involved several back and forths between SLC, Senate committees and the whole Senate but there was no clear process or understanding of what each group was supposed to do. The media heads were interviewed for their positions but this only touched on the budget and at no point were we brought in to explain our budgets or help find cuts.

TKS’ budget was cut by 25.2% from last year, leaving us an overall budget of $43,864. It took until Oct. 16 for this to be communicated to us officially in an email from the Student Senate account. My application, including my proposed budget, was submitted Feb. 14, eight months before.

Part of the delay was because enrollment for this fall was uncertain, so no one knew how much money would be available. By the time I received the budget, however, I had already printed three issues and started planning a trip to a national conference.

I’m sure TKS’ budget will surprise a lot of you, so let me explain it. Most of it goes to payroll, which I originally planned to include nine ‘full time’ 10-hour an issue staff and 14 ‘half time’ staff.

Printing is the next largest chunk. We had been paying around $600 an edition, running 500 copies of 26 editions.

When I started asking about cutting costs, the printer in Rockford found they would be able to cut around $60 per edition from that through their own efficiency, but we needed more than that.

I worked with the printer to find other possible reductions and decided that cutting color from some of the pages made the most sense and would make the least impact on the quality of the paper. Depending on how our budget looks later in the year, we may again consider cutting pages or editions.

Cutting copies of each edition may seem like a clear way to save money, but because we print such small runs, cutting editions would not lower costs by much.

We moved to all color last spring term when our printing moved from The Register-Mail here in Galesburg to Rockford because it ended up not costing us any more than half color.

We kept color where we felt made the most sense to keep it –– front, Mosaic and page 12, the ‘front’ page of Sports. This saves us an extra $75 an issue, which gets us in the ballpark of where we need to be.

We additionally have some organization dues, website hosting and postage which we have to pay.

When the other media heads and I were notified of our budgets, we were also told that we would have to split the lump sum into payroll and operations. While this is a part of our application process with our proposed budgets, with the cuts it means each of us has to balance pay and jobs against our operations.

Of the changes so far, I don’t believe any will drastically affect the quality of TKS as a paper. Moving to black and white for some pages is the best we can do for that.

I had hoped to make some purchases to make it easier to get involved in TKS and make us a better learning environment overall. Topping the list were cameras so it would be easier for new people to get involved with photographing for us, digital recorders so we were not reliant on our phones and AP stylebook print books for the Pub Office and digital logins for at least some of the editors.

None of that is likely to happen now.

My main concern is not the overall budget cuts, which are understandable given the college’s financial state and enrollment, but the process in which they were made. The cuts, with some effort and luck, can be worked around. The process needs to change.

Three different organizations –– Student Senate, the Student Life Committee and the Campus Life Office –– all had input on our budgets or information on the process. However, we were never brought in to provide advice or given a chance to find ways to cut our budgets ourselves. Nor has anyone been able to tell me who ultimately made the cuts and how they were decided.

Of the publications, TKS had the largest percent of our budget cut. However, last spring I had no warning that I should be looking for ways to cut the budget, especially by almost 30%. I was even told that I could continue with my plans for this school year, which I took to include hiring decisions.

It seems clear the process did not work this year. Figuring out how it can and should work will need to be a discussion between the media heads, Student Senate, SLC and Campus Life. But it needs to be something more transparent, coherent, informed and cooperative with everyone involved.

Connor Wood, Editor-in-Chief
Connor Wood is a senior with a double major in English Literature and Environmental Studies. He started as a volunteer writer and then staff writer his freshman year and was a news editor his sophomore and junior years. He has also worked as a communications intern for the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and as an intern with Unified News Group, both in the Madison, WI, suburbs.

Tags:  budget cuts club budgets publications student finances Student Senate

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