Former SWC senator criticizes ASO spending

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[media-credit name=”Jiamay Austria/Staff” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]

Raised slightly above the sleek magnetic strip of students ID cards, the Associated Student Organization activities sticker is hailed as the Golden Ticket of Southwestern College.  It is meant to give students discounts at the bookstore, free gadgets and an array of other benefits.  What many students do not know is that the $8 activity sticker is optional. Former ASO senator Rudy Villegas said it is misleading.

Villegas said many students think the sticker pays only for student activities on campus, but it also subsidizes the ASO and Inter Club Council retreats, ASO elections, salaries and cell phones provided to ASO executive board members.

“If you’re paying for the ASO, I don’t think it should be called a Student Activities Sticker,” said Villegas.

In fiscal year 2010-2011 the ASO received $265,000 from sticker sales, comprising more than three-fourths of its income.  ASO Vice President Nick Serrano said the organization uses the money primarily for the benefit of the student body.

“The majority of our spending is without a shadow of a doubt is our activities account,” he said.

ASO spent approximately $21,000 on campus activities for the main campus and three satellite sites, 10 percent of the budget’s total expenses, according to the 2010-2011 budget.

Conferences and dues is the largest line item of ASO expenses with $25,500 allocated.

ASO uses this money to attend statewide conferences like the Student Senate for California Community Colleges in Sacramento to petition the state on behalf of SWC.

Director of Student Activities Arlie Ricasa defended the expenditure.

“They are the official voice of the Southwestern Community College District,” said said.

Executives, senators and ICC members are taken to five leadership conferences a year for training.

“In student government what we’ve been able to do over the last several years is develop strong student leaders,” said Ricasa.  “But in order to develop them you also have to give them the training to do that.”

To provide these workshops, ASO spends $38,000 annually, $19,000 for each the ASO and the ICC.  Serrano said retreats are held off-campus, usually out of the county, to provide a new environment in which future student leaders can get to know one another better and focus on learning new skills.  Funds cover boarding, transportation and food for the students.

Serrano said the ASO does not encourage students to forgo purchasing the activities sticker.

“And that’s not just because of our budget,” said Serrano. “Fees from the sticker help pay for campus events hosted by the ASO like the Festival of Nations in April.”

Villegas said some students feel that the money is being handled poorly as events come and go on campus without more than a sign on the back wall of the Student Center.

“The events that are actually being produced are minor or aren’t even publicized well,” said Villegas. “It’s not effective government.”

Villegas said the ASO is not spending enough on its students and clubs. But Serrano said the ASO is handling its funds the best it can.

“I think the biggest thing that people need to understand is the process,” said Serrano.  “And it’s all because we want to insure that we’re not doing anything fraudulent.”

Villegas said he does not believe the ASO should be spending all its resources, but with more than $500,000 in reserve, he insisted the ASO does not put enough resources into the campus.

“I think that they should give back to the students,” he said.

Scholarships, club funds and donations to groups and programs are provided by ASO funds. ASO awarded $20,000 in scholarships to students and $30,000 to campus clubs. It is responsible for the textbook rental program at the campus bookstore.

Activity Sticker information is available on-line and in other various outlets.  Ricasa said it is well advertised that the activities sticker is optional.

“It’s been publicized very well,” she said.

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