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Funding frustration: Student organizations face challenges for travel expenses

The Sports Club Council responded to a change in the funding for traveling to events by organizing their teams to write a total of 46 letters from 13 of their teams. The team with the most letters sent in was tennis with eight. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE USF.EDU/CAMPUSREC

The Sports Club Council (SCC) met within 24 hours of getting what it considered alarming news: the method of paying for travel to events was likely to change.

Now, rather than receiving pre-paid funding for travel, student organizations will have to pay for their own travel out of pocket and get reimbursed by Activity and Service fees (A&S) funds.

Student Business Services (SBS) changed their policy as a way to better manage their time after not receiving funding for a new staff member.

Over the course of the next week, SCC leaders organized a total of 46 letters from its members of over 13 of the sports clubs on USF’s campus against the change, which they sent to Student Government (SG). The most common argument against it is that it would be unreasonable to expect members to shell out their own money to pay for these trips.

“We would really like to see this rule go back to the way it was,” SCC Vice Chair Danny Hoeflich said. “I know sports clubs do spend a lot of money as a whole organization because we do travel on trips a lot, but we do go out and show USF off. 

“With the new rule, yes, technically the university is paying for it but it’s hard for us as students to front hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”

In the past, SBS would make the reservations and thereby pay for airfare and hotels for student organizations prior to events that involved travel. Each organization only needed to send notice two weeks’ prior to the event.

SBS works as a part of SG to distribute A&S fees — paid by students — to the different organizations.

While some aspects of travel would be reimbursed afterward, including a rental car, the majority was pre-paid.

However, the change will make it a retrospective payment process. Organizations will be expected to pay out of pocket for travel-related expenses and be reimbursed later. 

Hoeflich said there is largely one reason sports club members are concerned about the change.

“Being able to pre-pay for any trips we were to take was a huge benefit for us because we didn’t have to front the money,” he said. “I know, just personally, with the ice hockey club, when we go on trips, we’ll rent buses and rent hotel rooms. 

“For us to have to front $4,000 for a weekend is way too much money for us to have to wait … about a month to get back from the university.”

While the SCC sent out a letter template to its members, the majority of those who sent it in added additional information to the letters so the final product ranged from one paragraph to a full page.

Letters from the various sports clubs were collected by SCC and sent to main SG officials including the student body president and vice president, the senate president and senate president pro-tempore, and several senators.

“We’re hoping this can be put back to the way it was so that we can take the pressure off of students who are having to front that kind of money,” Hoeflich said.

However, the issue goes beyond travel for student organizations.

SBS requested the funding for an additional staff member to help work with student organizations, for a total of $42,652 to pay this staff member.

While senate approved the addition, student body president Chris Griffin vetoed it largely based on money. The position would be paid through the unallocated funds budget for this year, but would need continuous yearly funding.

“Each of us is tasked with funding things in an unbiased manner, and because we all see the work that (SBS) provides every day, I feel that it may have been hard for us to fund this position in an unbiased manner,” Griffin said in his official veto memo. 

According to the memo, FSU, UCF and UF have smaller business offices than USF, all of which he visited, and many have “responsibilities that were greater than ours.” Additionally, he said SBS has not seen a “substantial” increase in the number of requests submitted that would require a new position.

“When the position wasn’t funded, (SBS) determined that to no longer pre-pay for student travel would the best way to manage their time without the addition,” Griffin told The Oracle.

The veto pushed SBS to make the new policy that student organizations would request the travel, pay for the travel on their own and then get reimbursed for whatever they spent.

However, SBS has received the letters of concern from SCC, and there’s still negotiating room on the new policy.

“Student Business Services has heard the concerns that students have. They have brought them to the attention of various SG leaders in multiple branches,” Alexander Suarez, chair of the SG grants committee, said. “Ultimately, it will be up to the Senate to discuss and figure out how best to move forward.”