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SPARC Budget Update: Students will now negotiate budget allocations

Meilynn Smith
Students leaders in Student Government Association, student publications, Pedal Grinnell and Grinnell Concerts will now be responsible for negotiating for allocations of the student activity fee budget, which is estimated to be roughly $417,000 for next year.

The Grinnell College Division of Student Affairs (DSA) will not cut funding for print student publications for the 2024-2025 academic year. Under a new and evolving budget process over the coming weeks, media heads at campus publications will negotiate with representatives from Student Government Association (SGA), Grinnell Concerts, Pedal Grinnell and KDIC for portions of a projected $417,000 budget for student organizations. 

Students’ requests for these student organization funds “far exceed available resources,” according to a Tuesday press release by the College. 

The projected $417,000 is not a budget reduction from the 2023-24 academic year, according to  Ellen de Graffenreid, vice president of communications and marketing. However, the revival of KDIC and the proposed incorporation of Pedal Grinnell into the student organization budget will increase demand on the fund. After voting to split, SGA and Concerts will submit and receive separate budgets. 

Before SGA knew of the impending negotiations, SGA requested $350,000 for next year. Grinnell Concerts has not submitted a budget. The S&Black could not determine the budgets requested by KDIC, Pedal Grinnell or SPARC. 

The new budget negotiation process was first communicated to publications and SGA representatives in a meeting with DSA on April 24. This came after student publications — The S&B, GOGUE, The Grinnell Review, Grinnell College Press, The Sequence and Grinnell Underground Magazine (GUM) — said they received unclear and conflicting information about potential major cuts to their print publications. These publications, in addition to the B&S, are overseen by the Student Publications and Radio Committee (SPARC). 

On Monday, April 22, students leaders at all student publications signed an editorial published in The S&B calling for transparency after Ashley Adams, associate director of student involvement and the students’ employment supervisor, informed them that the College would reduce their print budget. 

In an interview with The S&B, Ellen de Graffenreid, vice president of communications and marketing, said these communications were inaccurate and were the result of a “major miscommunication.” 

“There wasn’t a structure, and there wasn’t transparency, and there wasn’t a process that was written down anywhere,” de Graffenreid said. 

JC Lopez, vice president of student affairs, said there is currently no budgetary process for students to determine how to allocate the student organization fund. 

“This is the first budgeting process that we’ve ever engaged in,” Lopez said. 

Lopez said he seeks to co-create a transparent budget process with students that will be used in the future. 

“One thing I want to do, and hope that we can do together, is create processes and sustain them,” Lopez said. “This is an opportunity.”

At the April 24 meeting, Lopez met with student leadership from all seven SPARC publications as well as SGA representatives to discuss and explain SPARC’s share of the overall student organization budget. Lopez said the meeting highlighted the need to include SPARC media heads in future budget discussions.

Lopez said the meeting was a “starting point” to make himself more transparent to students.  

Lopez scheduled two meetings for subsequent weeks aimed at finalizing the exact allocation of the projected $417,000 between organizations. KDIC, Concerts and Pedal Grinnell representatives were not invited to the initial meeting, but will be included in future discussions, according to Lopez.

Maure Smith-Benanti, assistant vice president of student affairs, and Myrna Hernandez, chief of staff and vice president of administration, also attended the meeting. 

Peter Versh `25, a Pedal Grinnell employee who’s worked with the organization since its founding, said he was not aware of the meeting until afterwards. He said he wished he could have attended. 

According to multiple SPARC heads who attended the meeting, the incorporation of Pedal Grinnell into the student organization budget was discussed extensively. 

“I’m not entirely sure it’s official that we’ve been moved to the student activity fee,” Versh said. “And if that’s the case, I’m going to try to let that not be the case.” 

Versh said the mission of Pedal Grinnell is to provide its service free-of-charge. Versh said if the student activity fee began funding Pedal Grinnell, the service would be indirectly charging students. 

“That’s something I’m going to try and fight against,” Versh said. 

Lopez said Pedal Grinnell has an annual budget of approximately $30,000. Versh said he does not think that number is an accurate reflection of Pedal Grinnell’s yearly budget, because the estimate includes initial purchases of new bikes. 

According to Versh, Pedal Grinnell received initial funding through SGA as a student initiative in the 2022-2023 academic year. In spring 2023, former Pedal Grinnell employee Eli Brotman `25 collaborated with Ben Newhouse, dean of students, to fund Pedal Grinnell through the operational budget for DSA.

Lopez said the Division of Student Affairs no longer has funding to support the Pedal Grinnell, which is why the organization might be incorporated into the student organization budget. 

“Right now, just based on our allocations, we can’t sustain it,” Lopez said.

Lopez said students from KDIC, Pedal Grinnell and Grinnell Concerts were not invited to the initial April 24 meeting because he sought specifically to address concerns by SPARC student leadership about print publication funding. 

 “We needed to first address this conversation,” Lopez said about SPARC. 

Lopez said he learned of the difficulty allocating the student organization budget the week of April 15. 

However, according to students from six SPARC publications, Adams informed media heads that DSA might stop funding print publications multiple times throughout March and April. 

Lopez said he would need to understand more the conversations between Adams and SPARC media heads before commenting on communications between Adams and SPARC student leadership. 

“I would need to kind-of figure out how we got to this point, and how we do things differently moving forward,” he said. 

Lopez said he does not know which administrators first proposed cutting funds for SPARC print publications. 

“I’ll take ownership of however we got here,” Lopez said about students who said they were informed DSA would not fund print publications next year. “At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to work across the division on any issues or concerns.” 

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About the Contributors
Nina Baker
Nina Baker, Staff Writer
Nina Baker is a fourth-year Russian major with a Russian, Central European and Eurasian Studies concentration from Lakeville, Minnesota. When she's not reporting for The Scarlet & Black, she loves taking long walks, reading, and learning foreign languages.
Meilynn Smith
Meilynn Smith, Staff Photographer
Meilynn is a first-year from Vancouver, Washington. She is an intended biology major and wants to go into physical therapy in the future. She enjoys playing soccer, hanging out with friends, going on hikes, and photographing wildlife. 
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