OSPIRG: one last try

OSPIRG representatives made an emotional defense for their funding request to the Student Fee Committee Wednesday, during an appeal hearing that went more than 45 minutes overtime and ended with both sides indicating that the conflict remains unresolved.

The fee committee and Portland State’s chapter of the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) agreed to a special hearing tonight at 7 p.m. The group’s representatives’ requests for an extended meeting spawned from concerns that this is their last chance for appeal and that they wish to be sure that all of the committee’s issues with the budget have been addressed.

OSPIRG requested $125,135 in student fee money this year. In the initial allocation hearing, committee members voted four to three to temporarily allocate OSPIRG $0, asking them to come back with a budget that is itemized by campaign and that will demonstrate how the money will be spent on campus.

The Student Fee Committee has made numerous complaints about OSPIRG’s compliance with the committee’s budgeting guidelines. Among them, the committee questions whether the group truly spends their funds on PSU’s campus and says the group has neglected to use Banner, Portland State’s online budget tracking tool.

OSPIRG in turn has accused the fee committee of unfairly scrutinizing their budget in comparison to its scrutiny of other student groups, and has said that the committee has not provided specific enough consultation for OSPIRG to correct budget problems.

The Student Fee Committee recommended at the initial funding deliberations in January that OSPIRG be allocated $40,000, a sum the group says is inadequate to keep the Portland State chapter alive. OSPIRG is appealing for $125,134.

"Numbers were thrown out as if at an auction," OSPIRG member Courtney Morse said Wednesday about the initial funding decision. "We asked where the $40,000 came from, and we didn’t receive a specific response."

At the meeting, Student Fee Committee Chair Tracy Earll insisted that the committee was considering OSPIRG’s budget fairly. She said the recommendation reflects the $33,000 the group received last year and a 20 percent increase allowing for growth.

"OSPIRG is being treated exactly like the other student groups," she said.

The meeting briefly became palpably tense when fee committee member Kaveh Heravi pointed out that OSPIRG’s appeal budget proposal was $1 less than their initial proposal, and said that he considered the reduction to be a symbolic disregard for the student fee process. OSPIRG Vice Chair Amy Connolly was quick to point out that the change was simply a typo with no intent behind it and the matter was dropped.

In order to address some of the committee’s concerns, Connolly gave the committee a breakdown of the group’s spending by campaign, and had the group’s adviser, Tonantzin Oceguera, testify that the group is making efforts to comply with budget reporting procedures. Oceguera, director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs, replaced Carol Martin as the group’s adviser after Martin was fired in December.

The committee accused OSPIRG of neglecting to use the Banner budgeting system to report their expenditures during the initial deliberation process, a claim the group has frequently denied.

OSPIRG submitted a batch of invoices to be entered into the Banner system Jan. 11, according to Oceguera and Student Activities Leadership Program accountant Phyllis Hayes. More invoices still need to be submitted, however.

OSPIRG has had "consistent communication" with Hayes and herself, Oceguera told the committee Wednesday.

Another of the committee’s concerns was whether PSU was paying the state chapter a sum equal to what other Oregon schools were paying. The state chapter calculates dues based on full-time enrollment at each school. The committee said the numbers did not add up, because the requested amount was for 26,000 students when the full-time enrollment figure is closer to 14,000.

The committee also wanted to know if staffing fees requested in the budget were for the actual time staff worked on campus or if they were averaged from statewide costs.

OSPIRG’s state funds distribution scheme has been a topic of constant debate with the Student Fee Committee, who have often questioned if it may violate a committee guideline that funds be spent at PSU.

Traditionally, OSPIRG sends dues to their state office, and the money is redistributed as needed to the individual universities around Oregon. OSPIRG has claimed that the same amount is spent at PSU as is sent to the state chapter by the university. The fee committee, however, has said that the group has not adequately documented that the money in fact returns to the campus.

The budget battle between the committee and OSPIRG has been ongoing since 2003, when the group was initially allocated $21,000 of the $149,999 they had requested. In previous years, the group had been granted over $100,000.

Wednesday was the third day of budget appeals in which student groups make final pleas to the committee their share of more than $7 million in student fee money. The committee allocates money to over 80 student groups and campus athletics. The committee is scheduled to submit a final budget allocation for all student groups to the student senate Feb. 17 after final deliberations next week.