Student groups at the University of Montana will lobby this week to receive a portion of the Associated Students of the University of Montana’s $54,000 increase in funds.
“This process is terrible, it sucks and we know it,” said ASUM Business Manager Micah Nielsen. “It’s tough, that didn’t change. It’s tedious, that didn’t change. But the ability for student groups to succeed this year has significantly increased.”
UM students voted in favor of a $6 fee increase last spring, with all of the money going toward student groups around campus. Groups will have the chance to lobby ASUM senators this week, Monday through Thursday from 5 – 10 pm, before they approve the final budget on Saturday. Nielsen said the money would support each group’s operational funds for the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1.
As part of the budgeting process, ASUM grants executive recommendations to certain student groups across UM. These recommendations ensure that larger groups can continue to operate with a sufficient budget, Nielsen said. ASUM has recommended that the music union, which is composed of 17 student music groups, receive roughly $34,000 this year. That is almost three times as much as the union received last year.
“The strength in being a union is the strength of having a lot of kids in music groups,” said Lilly Olson, president of the music union. “When you’re able to walk into lobby with 100 or 200 people, it makes it really apparent to senators that our group impacts a ton of people.”
Olson said an increase in the music union’s budget would mean more opportunities for each group the union represents. The financial impact would allow more groups, like the chamber and university choirs, to go on tour. It would also support professional development, she said.
“It’s huge for us in that we’ll be able to pull in more guest artists,” Olson said. “We can bring in professional educators and professional musicians, people who are doing the things we want to do.”
The music union signed up with the ASUM office to lobby on Wednesday.
“The more people we can get, the better,” Olson said. “It shows the students themselves and their dedication.”
For its agency sponsored programs and required funding, Nielsen said ASUM will be working with $60,000 less in its discretionary budget this year.
As part of its discretionary budget, ASUM receives money through a fee students pay with tuition, Nielsen said. The money gained from student fees is used to fund ASUM services and student groups.
“Mandatory pay roll increases and enrollment drops killed us,” she said. “We’re so dependent on student fees to survive.”
ASUM’s discretionary budget suffered because of employee pay raises and UM’s enrollment decline, Nielsen said. The organization will be operating with $901,000 in total funds for the upcoming fiscal year. Although that is about $14,000 more than last year’s budget, the $6 increase for student groups was a major boost to the total amount available, she said.
Mandatory changes to its payroll and lost funds from a severed Head Start contract last fiscal year had a big impact on the day-to-day operation of ASUM Childcare and Preschool and Family Resources, said Director Marcia Ronck. Ronck said she hopes budgeting will offset some of the costs.
“We can’t ask ASUM to cover all the necessary increases, so we ask ASUM to cover some of the costs,” Ronck said.
The cost of supplies and food has also gone up along with payroll, she said. ASUM Childcare has already decided to increase parent fees next fiscal year by $1 a day from where it stands now at $28.25 a month. It may also have to eliminate programs or raise fees, depending on what happens with budgeting, Ronck said.
“I don’t ever make any decisions until the final hammer hits, and then we regroup and reorganize,” she said.
ASUM Childcare employees about 60 to 70 students and 11 classified employees.