In an effort to increase transparency between the Amherst Association of Students (AAS) and the College community, the AAS is working to move more of its budget information online, making it more open and accessible to the public.
Each year, the AAS manages a budget of over $800,000 paid for by the $250 Student Activities Fee included in each student’s tuition. The AAS treasurer, with the help of a staff of clerks, compiles detailed information accounting for the AAS finances each semester, which is then reviewed by a certified public accountant and an independent auditor. While this information is stored on AAS servers, much of it is not available to the College community except upon request.
From the fall of 2004 until the spring of 2007, the AAS posted a one-page summary of the budget on the Budgetary Committee website. After the format of the College website switched to the CMS format that it currently uses, the AAS stopped posting semesterly budget summaries.
“With the help of our webmaster, we moved all of the budgetary committee’s files onto the current site used by the AAS, including budget spreadsheets from the past,” said Peter Tang ’10, who was AAS Treasurer at the time of the switch.
“Thinking back, it was likely that I honestly forgot to include my full budgets on the new website and never got around to fixing that at the end of the year — the priorities at the end of the year are to cut the hundreds of year-end checks, reconcile our accounts and get those records to our external, independent auditor. We did, however, continue the practice of posting the weekly updated club budgets and discretionary fund allocations, since that was what most students needed to access and track their funds.”
Diwa Cody ’14, the current AAS treasurer, is now working to move the full budgets back online for the public to access and believes they will be ready by the spring.
“This absence of data was not intentional but rather a product of forgetfulness in the face of the numerous other responsibilities of the treasurer position in managing the office and accounts,” Cody said. “Now that it has been brought to the attention of the AAS and treasury office, we have implemented a plan to update the budget records section of the website within a reasonable time frame. The AAS is working to update its budgetary website so that all data is available in its entirety. However, this is a lengthy process and given our focus on preparing for the next fiscal cycle will probably not be available until spring semester 2012.”
To complete this goal, the Treasurer’s office is working to compile the missing information in a manner that is accessible and transparent for the College community. The Budgetary Committee website now reads, “This consolidation will take time because of the sheer volume of data and the clerical effort required. The AAS apologizes for any inconvenience caused, but asks that the time required for this process be respected. This endeavor to create a more transparent and easily accessible website cannot be completed over night, but its final version will fruitfully address any student needs to examine older budgets.”
Once available, the budget information should help the student body, and the College community as a whole, understand how AAS funds are spent. For example, although the budget information currently available makes it appear that some organizations and programs, such as TYPO and the Senate Special Projects Fund, did not spend the money that they were allocated, this was not the case.
“TYPO usually asks for its money during the second semester, so it’s likely accounted for in the following semester’s and in our actual budgeting software (we use two systems to keep track of our funds, both of which are reconciled through the auditor),” Tang explained. “As for the Special Projects Fund, it was likely that no senator did a Senate project that semester, so we likely rolled that money over into the reserves. Senators tend to do their projects in the second semester after thinking or planning for a while, or they might procrastinate until then.”
Moreover, the process of compiling the budget for public viewing, as it turns out, is not simply a matter of compiling the numbers but also arranging them in a presentable and easily comprehensible format, according to AAS president Romen Borsellino ’12.
“The budget information takes a lot of cleaning up,” said Borsellino. “A lot of it is raw data that students wouldn’t understand. It’s literally spreadsheets full of numbers. What we’re doing right now is having all the clerks organize them, categorize them [and] make them as user-friendly as possible. We want to be transparent, but transparency doesn’t mean, just ‘hey, look at this!’ It takes explanation, because a lot of it is bureaucratic stuff that we do that, quite frankly, goes over the heads of students — as it should, because it’s boring, dense stuff.”