King’s Students’ Union councillors decried what they called lacking consultation in the face of tentative budget changes for the coming school year.
Bursar Jim Fitzpatrick visited council Mar. 23 to discuss proposed fee increases. He said the changes respected the three per cent cap set by a 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Nova Scotia universities and the province (PDF). He added, however, that if the MOU didn’t exist, the fee discussion would be a much greater one.
A proposed larger fee increase—an eight per cent increase in fees for students’ meal plan with Sodexo—despite the MOU, and the continuation and increase of the technology renewal fee, caught councillors’ attention.
Fitzpatrick says the meal plan increase, which would come out to more than $200 per residence student, would account for practical needs to run Prince Hall. These include air conditioning, waste management and cleaning. He said previous fees didn’t account for that, and the school would actually require a 12-15 per cent increase to break even. The eight per cent increase would bring in an additional $35,000-$40,000 in the coming year.
|“King’s … has never used an (across-the-board) cut to balance the budget.”
The proposed 2014-2015 budget (PDF) also includes across-the-board department cuts. The cuts total to almost $300,000.
KSU student life vice-president Alex Bryant says this increase being eight per cent, rather than the across-the-board three per cent undergrad fee increases discussed in finance committee meetings in February, “worried (him) very deeply.”
The three per cent increase was an assumption, Fitzpatrick said. “I wasn’t looking at fees in detail back then.”
Bryant added it was his understanding that ancillary fees, like the meal plan fee, were scheduled for review and budget recommendations (PDF) at the Board of Governors finance committee’s February meeting. Bryant was the student representative on the committee at the time.
Fitzpatrick said he was unaware of this schedule, but that it was “my (Fitzpatrick’s) fault” if any existing processes were bypassed.
“It certainly wasn’t deliberate,” he said, though he added Bryant was “wasting time worrying about stuff like that,” as the discussions are not over.
This increase is not listed in the current public budget proposal. All other undergrad fees, including tuition, remain at three per cent increase proposals.
|“A complete retrofit”
Fitzpatrick and facilities director Alex Doyle plan to put the proposed increased facilities renewal fee, along with government funding, toward fitting the bays with modern utilities like those installed in Alex Hall after the flood.
Fitzpatrick was clear “we will be keeping” the technology renewal fee the Board of Governors passed last year, as well as increasing it by three per cent.
He added the school won’t start making concrete plans for the fee for another two months, though ideas for the fee include improving the school’s audio/visual systems and wiring the quad for Wi-Fi.
KSU external vice-president Katie Douglas was puzzled by that concept. “It seems really weird to me that you’re increasing a technology fee with no evidence of a plan.”
She suggested the school take a year to evaluate and consult departments, and bring the fee back with a clear plan.
“If we’re keeping this fee,” added Day Students’ Society vice-president Claire Burnard, “it’s fair to ask for a very clear outline. This fee has no specific purpose right now.”
Fitzpatrick said he would take this idea back to King’s president George Cooper.
He said the budget was constructed around a one per cent decrease in enrolment—or about 12 students—but that number was an “educated guess” on a statistic the registrar’s office officially generates.
Board of Governors student representative Eleanor Hornbeck and KSU communications vice-president Jacob Baker-Kretzmar both worried these kind of increases may drive students away. They said a one per cent enrolment decrease would be conservative in budgeting.
“I understand that process is important, but we’re not foreclosing on things.”
– Jim Fitzpatrick, bursar
“You may end up shooting yourselves in the foot a little bit,” Baker-Kretzmar said.
Fitzpatrick said he had no argument to that. He said based on finances alone, there’s no way to convince a student to stay at King’s over Dalhousie, which has lower ancillary fees.
“You don’t need a CA (chartered accountant) to figure it out,” he said.
KSU president Michaela Sam said the bottom line was that students need to be brought into these discussions sooner, more frequently, and not as a response to decisions that have already been made.
She added the budget is, in her experience, one of very few places without a “robust” student consultation process, and that money comes up a lot in discussion of recruitment and retention.
Though she understands that government funding of universities is an issue, she said, “this can’t keep being put on the backs of students.”
Fitzpatrick’s response to Sam’s comments was a pause, followed by a short, “Okay, thanks.”
Though a town hall meeting is being discussed, fee proposals go to the province in a week.
The tentative budget will be approved at the June 26 Board of Governors meeting.