By Latifa Abdin and Vjosa Isai
Students finally have a window into the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) operations and how their student fees are spent, after the release of budget documents for this and the last two years.
In each of the past two years, the student union has posted deficits over $150,000. Last year’s RSU executive planned to run a minor deficit of $3,216 in its proposed budget, but ended up going $228,575 over budget.
To cover the shortfalls, previous RSU executives have raided the union’s capital reserve fund, according to Obaid Ullah, the RSU’s vice-president operations. Ullah told The Ryersonian the reserve fund has around $300,000 left — less than the combined deficits from the last previous years.
“If you don’t balance the budget, at the end of the day, that money has to come out of some place,” Ullah said. The current RSU executive is hoping to balance this year’s budget and have a surplus of $13,215.
This year’s net revenue is projected at $2,067,949, slightly less than the $2,086,126 in revenue raised last year. The current executive plans to spend about $250,000 less this year, with total expenditures totalling $2,054,734 compared to the $2,314,700 spent last year.
Ullah said the philosophy behind this year’s budget is to give more back to students, and to use alternative funding strategies including business partnerships and sponsorship opportunities to pay for events.
“The emphasis is that it’s students’ money,” Ullah said. “Tuition is high … so we’re giving more money towards grants, bursaries and scholarships.”
The money budgeted for grants to student groups and course unions has increased dramatically compared to last year.
For student groups, the proposed grant budget has increased to $100,000 from last year’s budget of $8,000.
Student group base funding, which is the amount of money allocated to each of the 60 student groups, will increase to $5,000 from $1,000.
Course unions can apply for an additional $40,000 in grants this year from the $8,000 proposed in last year’s budget. Proposed base funds increased to $57,000 from $37,000.
This year’s budget anticipates spending on legal fees will more than double from last year. The previous RSU had budgeted $35,000 and spent only $22,580. This year, $50,000 has been put aside for legal fees.
“There’s been a lot of different people coming after us with legal cases so we just budgeted more in case we needed it,” said Ullah. “There’s a lot of stuff we need legal counsel on this year.”
The RSU is currently involved in an ongoing legal case with a pro-life group, which sued the RSU after being denied official group status on campus.
Some ventures are not as lucrative as students expect. The Used Book Room, for instance, is set to lose $84,929 this year. Last year, the room was counted as a $16,685 expenditure — a huge drop from the $77,186 revenue it generated in 2013-14.
This year, Ullah personally signed over 1,000 cheques from textbooks sold in The Used Book Room instead of using an automated signing service. “It’s a lot of signing to do, but we did it because I wanted to make sure financial controls are in place and no cheque is issued without our say,” he said.
The fact there were over 1,000 cheques issued signals to Ullah that this service is still valuable to a large number of students. However, he wants to explore different ways to bring the cost down.
The current RSU has been working to broker sponsorships and other creative ways to get funding, Ullah said.
This year’s Frosh Week parade and picnic, which featured a performance by Drake, cost $515,000. But only $215,000 of the total was spent by the RSU.
“We got $315,000 or $350,000 in sponsorship,” Ullah said, noting the union stayed well under the $250,000 it budgeted.
Ullah said the RSU’s strategy for funding events and reducing costs is to secure sponsorships and hosting partnerships.
“The point that we want to make is that if we’re doing an event, we want to pay for our events,” Ullah said. “We’re trying to save our money by working with other parties and making events bigger, better, and more efficient.”
“What my main vision was with this whole budget was to make sure that students’ money is being spent responsibly, to make sure students’ money is being spent in the right place,” he said.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 11, 2015.