St. Olaf’s Student Government Association (SGA) and its branches are responsible for many events that happen on campus, from Pause dances to the movie bus to hosting speakers. SGA administration also provides the funding for the Hiawathaland Transit bus that gives students free rides to downtown Northfield and Target. Even the newspaper you’re reading right now, The Manitou Messenger, is funded by SGA.
This year SGA was given over $500,000 to allocate to its administration and nine branches. SGA Financial Officer Joe Briesemeister ’16 explained how SGA President John Bruer ’16, Vice President William Seabrook ’16 and he decided where they wanted the money to go this year.
“William and John kind of [campaigned] on how they thought the budget should be allocated, so a lot of the bigger decisions about how much went here, and how it’s changed, and what we’re going to fund more next year is a lot more about what their goal and agenda was, but I was there to help weigh in, and give my input and see how they took it,” Briesmeister said.
While this may seem like a big job to take on, in reality the budget does not change much from year to year and most allocations go unchanged.
“The changes from this year to last year were actually very small in terms of how much each branch got, which is pretty consistent year to year. There aren’t ever really any changes that rock the budget. Everything’s pretty well thought out and consistent,” Briesmeister said.
The biggest change to the SGA budget this year regarded event security. When a student organization or branch of SGA wants to host something big, like a Pause dance, it needs to hire outside security, which costs around $1,000 per event. Last year the administrative branch funded event security completely. This year the administration will only cover 70 percent of outside security costs, and the organization throwing the event will have to come up with the other 30 percent.
“What ended up happening was that there were far too many events, security got way too expensive and we went in the hole in that category,” Briesmeister said.
While the initial proposal made in the spring suggested a 50-50 split on security costs, branches with a lot of programming costs – namely ADC, SAC and PAC – raised concerns about being able to cover these security costs and still host as many events.
“We got some pushback last year from some of the branches who were just concerned about the increase in their costs now that security would be 50-50, because that’s still a pretty substantial $500 or $600 charge. If you consider how many Pause dances ADC throws, that’s an additional $500 per dance, which ends up being a lot,” Briesmeister said.
After the initial budget proposal was presented to Senate last spring, Briesmeister, Bruer and Seabrook considered the concerns about security funding and reworked the budget so that branches would only have to pay 30 percent of security costs and SGA would cover the rest. This revised budget was then presented to the new Senate in early October, and approved two weeks later.
“Having changed that to 70-30, those senators who had expressed concern over that actually spoke up and applauded that change and appreciated that,” Briesmeister said.
After SGA administration makes allocations to each branch, it is the branch coordinator’s job to allocate money within their own branch.
The Student Organizations Committee is the branch of SGA that approves new student organizations and provides them with funding. Organizations attend one of SOC’s weekly meetings, present an itemized budget and make their appeal. SOC reviews this appeal on its own and decides what amount of money is appropriate.
“We aim to give people what we deem is sufficient without giving them too much. That might sound a little stingy, but there are a lot of [organizations] and a lot of demand we try to fill. When we go over their budget, we try to help fund necessary costs,” SOC member Andrew Lupton ’18 said.
Even though SOC cannot always meet every request from every organization, there is strategy to appealing for morefunding.
“While it might not always be possible for us to give more money to an [organization], there are things an [organization] can do to increase its chances of getting greater funds,” Lupton said. “The clearer you are about what your [organization] wants in your explanation of your budget, the better we can understand what you need. [Organizations] that stay on top of their budgets and have good track records of fiscal responsibility do themselves favors when it comes to seeking funding.”