Pitzer College’s annual Kohoutek Music and Arts Festival spent close to $6,000 more than it was allocated last year, forcing the Pitzer Student Senate to tap into its budget reserves and raising questions about accounting practices for Pitzer clubs and organizations.
According to Senate Treasurer Amy Brownstein PZ ’13, Kohoutek’s overspending was known when Senate began its annual budget allocation process in April of last year, but in June, Assistant Dean of Students Chris Brunelle discovered that several other clubs had exceeded the budget as well.
“At the time of fund allocations last year, Kohoutek was the only known club to have gone over budget,” Brownstein said. “[They] went over budget by $5,000 to $6,000,” she added later in an e-mail to The Student Life.
When Brunelle discovered the budget deficit, he covered it with funds from Senate reserves, which are generated from the balances of clubs who do not spend the entirety of their allocations by the end of the year.
“Most clubs’ leftover money in their accounts does not roll over,” Senate Chair Rio Bauce PZ ’12 said. “This money instead is placed in the Senate reserve funds.”
According to Brownstein, the reserves were still down around $6,000 as a result of the Kohoutek overspending, until approximately $4,200 in unspent funds from last years’ clubs was placed in the reserves, reducing he debt to around $1,800. Bauce said the Senate would vote at its meeting this Sunday to allow the reserves to drop by $1,800 or to cover that deficit with funds from this year’s budget.
“On Sunday we’ll vote on whether the $1,800 should come from the reserve or this year’s budget,” Bauce said. “[If it comes from the budget], it means that there would be $1,800 less available for Senate to use at their discretion or for new clubs to get new money.”
Brownstein said Kohoutek was sanctioned in its budget allocation this year by roughly the amount it overspent last year. A few other clubs were later found to have also gone over budget by a few hundred dollars, but they were not sanctioned, Brownstein said.
The cause of Kohoutek’s and other groups’ overspending was found to be the system Pitzer uses to reimburse students for expenses they make. When a student in a Pitzer club makes purchases for that club, he or she can be reimbursed for those expenses with club funds by turning in receipts and attaining authorization from the club treasurer. Last year, however, several student organizers for Kohoutek did not turn in their receipts for reimbursement until very close to the end of the year, so club treasurers authorized expenditures they didn’t have funds for, and total reimbursement requests exceeded the budget by nearly $6,000.
When asked if the overspending could be a result of insufficient funding for clubs and organizations, Brownstein said she did not think it was.
“Allocations are sufficient, in my opinion,” she said.
Brownstein added that clubs can petition for an increase in their budgets if more funding is needed.
“If students need more money to hold an event or to follow through with projects they’ve already started but cannot afford to complete, they can come to the Senate and we can approve allocations of extra funding,” she said.
To avoid issues with overspending in the future, Bauce said Senate is adopting new budgetary accounting practices, including a system that allows Senate to keep track of club funds as reimbursement checks are distributed, notifies Senate when clubs are close to their allocation limits, and distributes account balances for clubs at the end of each semester.
“They’re going to receive a pink slip telling them to ‘stop approving spending, you’re getting close to using all your money. Come meet with [Senate] to talk about your funds!’ ” Bauce said.
“Students will now only have two weeks to turn in receipts for purchases made with personal money [or they won’t be reimbursed],” Brownstein added.
Brownstein and Bauce were optimistic that the changes would help avert budgetary problems in the future.
“[This issue] is resolved. We’re being very careful this year,” Brownstein said.