Budget Deficit Brings Death to SpringFest

Cartoon by Emma Hines.

Over the past few years, the modest Elting Gym stage has been graced by a number of big-name talents including Joey Bada$$, ASAP Ferg and Action Bronson. SpringFest is the one major event students are treated to outside of smaller campus-organized events scattered throughout the school year. This is the first time in recent memory that the school has been forced to scrap the event. 

In early February, the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz Student Association (SA) regrettably informed the student body that the school’s annual spring concert, SpringFest, would not occur this year. The cancellation uncovered ongoing occurences of clerical errors and budgeting constraints. 

Ultimately, the issue was revealed with a simple crunching of numbers: the school’s previous auditor overshot the amount of liquid cash the SA had to allocate. With the introduction of a new auditor, they soon discovered that their budget actually averages around $1.3 million, despite the usual $1.5 million the SA has been accustomed to, resulting in a budget deficit of $200,000.

The current auditor suspects that the school’s reserve funds were mistook for disposable cash, although it is surprising that a professional working for the school was not made aware of this SUNY standard in the eight years the school operated under this falsehood. This sent SA scrambling to rework their budget to ensure that the deficit wouldn’t carry on to the fall and cause further havoc. In the Spring ‘18 semester, the SA nearly ran out of money completely by March.   

We at The New Paltz Oracle are perplexed and frustrated by the lack of oversight that allowed such a glaring error to go unnoticed for nearly a decade. With the SA already struggling to acquire the personel needed to fulfill their duties, this should not have been an additional burden for them to carry.  

The main question became, where is this large sum of cash going to come from? The decision took a painstaking amount of critical thinking and hard decision making from our student government. It came down to either eradicating funding towards General Programing, and effectively snuffing out dozens of clubs, or pulling the plug on SpringFest, which accounted for over half of the deficit. 

It was a heartbreaking decision for those who put so much passion and energy into its conception, but the SA ultimately decided to let the concert go. With the local do-it-yourself house show venues becoming scarce, students’ options for live music within walking distance are dwindling. The cancellation marks yet another deadly blow to the fading local music scene. Underaged students’ options for live music are restricted to SpringFest. Without it, New Paltz loses one of the largest gigs of the year.     

We at The Oracle applaud the SA’s decisiveness with an incredibly tough decision that was largely out of their control. Elting Gym capacity rests at merely 2,000 students, meaning only roughly 30 percent of the student body could legally attend anyway. Thus, we support their choice to serve the majority of students’ needs rather than frivolously blow the money on one day.

However, it would be cursory and irresponsible to blame the SpringFest failure on negligence alone. The issue is more deeply rooted than that, stemming from current policies regarding funding for more than 100 clubs and organizations on campus. In short, the sheer volume of clubs on campus has stretched the SA budget too thin.

 The school’s lack of restrictions regarding the formation of clubs has overwhelmed the SA’s capabilities. Over the past five to six years, the school saw an increase of somewhere between 50 to 60 clubs on campus. This drastic spike in the number of clubs puts a considerable strain on the SA’s budget. With no cap on the number of clubs allowed on campus, this becomes a bigger issue in the long-term. 

Diversity, to varying degrees of success, is one of our school’s most celebrated goals and beliefs. Part of this diversity comes from the wide array of social and cultural clubs, ranging from burlesque to live action role-play and even us at The Oracle. Additionally, students who don’t feel like they fit into the wide selection of clubs have the liberty of gathering members and forming their own unique club. It’s a noble gesture from the administration, but it comes with a cost.

New clubs fall under the “General Programming” umbrella and only receive up to $1,000 per semester during their first year. Afterwards, if they consistently charter for three consecutive semesters, they can join the elite class of “line item.” These well-established groups are guaranteed $10,000 each semester since they are automatically factored into the budget. General Programming clubs are especially vulnerable because their money isn’t assured. The question then becomes how do we avoid this budgeting peril in the future?

SUNY New Paltz’s fee is on the low side of the spectrum compared to rivaling SUNY schools, totaling $210 per school year. However, there has been long-term reluctance from the student government to slightly increase the activity fee in order to avoid tacking on additional costs since many students already struggle with paying for tuition and housing as is.  

Without annihilating smaller clubs or violating school policies by pulling funds from line items, few solutions seemed viable. One promising suggestion presented was to fall in line with other SUNYs and make all of our clubs line-items. This allots each club the same fixed funding that is already worked into the budget, making it easier to manage and prevent the SA from running out of money completely. There are, however, potential unknown consequences on how this may impact tuition.   

Thus, we are left with a troubling dilema: how do we promote diversity and expression among our student body without becoming bankrupt in the process? 

We do not wish to discourage students from starting new clubs, but the financial realities faced by our student government necessitate some sort of reevaluation. We propose a cap to limit the number of clubs that are funded by the SA.

The amount of freedom given to students is wonderful, but if the SA limits the number of clubs it would help them to avoid future crises by allowing more of a financial cushion and such drastic sacrifices will not have to be made.

Another option would be to scrap SpringFest altogether and use that fat chunk of money for different purposes. Perhaps the money could be spread out among general programming and other student activities that could desperately use it. Alternatively, the SA could propose an event that could involve more students and be just as fun. 

Regardless of the path chosen, it is clear that comprehensive reform of school budgeting policies will only serve to help the SA and benefit the student body. Just like any other form of government, constant reformation and adaptation are necessary to improve the operations and life at SUNY New Paltz.