LIVE BLOG: Referendum Town Hall Jan 26

Referendum Town Hall

Here’s the pamphlet that’s being handed out to people here at the town hall.

The Watch is livestreaming this town hall on facebook! Thanks, The Watch!

 

Aidan’s starting us off. The KSU has been facing financial difficulty over the years, this Exec has taken the year to gather information and work out solutions. The Exec is bringing forward a recommendation but it’s up to students if dues increase.

Zoe: current dues are $60.88/term for full time students (half for part time students). Proposed increase is $22.38/term.

Aidan: referendum is a vote taken by the entire student body, there’s a yes or no question about whether you want to raise dues and everyone gets to vote. If it passes, the due increase would take effect next academic year.

Zoe: this number allows the Union to balance our budget even in a worst-case scenario.

Aidan: Decreased Enrolment and Revenue.

Zoe: Revenue has dropped significantly (over 200 students) in the last three years. Union’s operating budget has therefore shrunk about $19,000 during that time. This year we ran a deficit budget and had no savings.

Aidan: Union has no long-term savings. We used to, but they were invested in the Bookstore and the Galley when they opened.

Zoe: without the referendum, even if we cut funding from campaigns and services and spent nothing on events, we would still be unable to pay honoraria and keep the office running next year.

Aidan: Full Time Hospitalities Coordinator. The KSU owns and operates the Wardroom and Galley. The Hospitalities Coordinator (HC) manages both business and all their staff. Union pays this manager, businesses pay their own costs and employees. Businesses are mandated to provide cheap and local stuff. Only way this is possible is that the Union takes overhead management costs off the businesses. Any revenue goes back into the businesses.

Zoe: The HC position has evolved. Used to be a student before the Galley opened, then one staff person, then a part-time manager, now the HC (full-time during the year, part-time in the summer). Several approaches, none have worked. It needs to be full-time year-round.

Aidan: increasing HC hours would allow HC to support staff in both businesses. This is an investment in the businesses. We can’t keep assigning so much work to this person, which would mean a conversation about reducing their workload, which means a conversation about closing one of the businesses.

Zoe: we consistently underpay the people we hire.

Aidan: we have a HC and a Services and Campaigns Coordinator (SCC). Their job descriptions are up on the projector, I can’t type fast enough to get it all down! Sry. Both our staff people do a lot of work that maybe all students aren’t aware of. The SCC works full-time in the KSU office doing a number of things. Reception, keeping office open, helping societies, managing the health plan, supporting councillors and the Executive, etc.

Zoe: number we’ve presented would allow us to raise salaries for both employees from $36,000 (SCC) and $32,000 (HC) to $45,000 each (25% increase, more for HC). This would bring them in line with comparable positions. Raising these now would be crucial in a hiring process. We need to be able to attract candidates with the skills we need, if we aren’t offering a wage at this level, other places are. Paying this rate will ensure that we can attract and keep these people.

Aidan: Union Hired Positions are other students we hire to work on things, also very underpaid, referendum would allow us to increase each position’s honorarium by $100 and reinstate two cut positions. These positions make from around $300 to $700 now (for a one-year term).

Aidan: Campaign, Services, and Accessibility. Declining revenue has led to budget cuts, but many of our operations are fixed costs, like insurance. Significant cuts have had to be made to student services and campaigns, like committees, awards, events, sustainability, grad week, study snacks, etc.

Zoe: these lines were reduced from total $16.5k three years ago to total $5.5k now. We have also streamlined and learned to budget better and make our Union run on less. This section of the budget is directed by members’ interests each year.

Aidan: Executive honoraria. Currently each executive member makes $4,400 each year. This is something we need to think about in terms of accessibility, who can afford to run to be on the exec. Proposed increase is to $4,900. Full time executive positions are not feasible for the Union. This would be like rent and a bit more. By increasing them, we’re asserting that these positions should be accessible to students from all backgrounds and we’re trying to lighten the load on students who need to work while attending school.

 

Time for questions!!

Q: If sustainability commissioner reinstated, would there be money for sust initiatives on campus? Zoe: maybe, that’s what happens in the last section of the budget that students choose every year.

Q: Salary numbers are different from budget, why? Aidan: budget numbers are actual amounts, not necessarily the exact amount in the contract.

Q: Referendum question itself refers to increase in dues, not allocation of funds, budget itself created later and voted on at Spring General Meeting? Zoe: yes. Ballot is just a yes or no to the increase. Budgeting and further conversations happen after. We’ve prepared recommendations because we’ve been in these positions for a while.

Q: Two businesses, this wasn’t always the case, have people seriously thought about not having the Galley anymore? Aidan: that’s our worst-case scenario, we want to increase HC salary so that we can keep these businesses open.

Q: Do the Wardy and Galley currently break even or are they in a deficit? Jenn: both businesses break even and are sustainable, they are autonomous and don’t contribute to the operating budget of the Union.

Q: Are you planning to allocate any money for savings next year? Zoe: it’s been a problem having budgets without contingency funds, these lines become savings at the end of the year, we’re going to put $3,000 in contingency next year.

Q: Who pays Galley and Wardy employees? Zoe: the Wardy and Galley pay these people themselves.

The room is very quiet!!

Q: Considering how much King’s students are already paying, how will you justify students paying more to the Union? Aidan: yeah, King’s students pay very high fees and a key pillar of the Union is advocating for accessible education. How is this different from King’s hiking up tuition: all our students vote on whether dues increase or not. Also KSU provides a platform for advocacy on behalf of students which is very important work that results in material differences for students.

Q: Would proposed increase fully cover everything you want to do next year or would we have to restructure more? Zoe: we got this number from a worst-case-scenario regarding enrolment. This number would balance the budget.

Q: How can you ensure that your suggestions for how to allocate this money are followed by the next executive who create that budget? Aidan: we saw this referendum as a responsibility so that the next Exec has a structure to do the work that they campaigned on. They’ll be responsible for the allocation of these funds, but we wanted to present a solution. Whoever makes that final call is yet to be elected though.

Q: What is the enrolment worst-case scenario? Aidan: down 30 from this year, to 903, which is lower than what the University is expecting.

Q: If it gets worse, won’t we need another referendum in a year or two? Aidan: the goal of this referendum is that we’ll be ok for the next number of years. Everyone here is crossing their fingers for a turn up in enrolment but that’s not something we’re going to budget on. We would have enough flexibility next year to handle worse situations. Zoe: there are larger problems than enrolment, we’re setting ourselves up for a better structure in the future.

Q: Have you asked the administration about contributing to the salaries of the HC and other positions, considering how much the University uses these services and benefit from them? Aidan: no, what’s great about our businesses is that they’re autonomous. If the University wanted to give us free money we would talk about it, but we don’t think they do.

Q: Re: institutional memory, student union fees are already very high, how frequently have these due increases happened? Aidan: this enrolment crisis has been going on for three years. In terms of the KSU history, there was a referendum to raise dues three years ago, in 2014. This was a very different conversation. All the funds from that increase basically disappeared the next year when enrolment dropped.

Q: Lots of conversation around campus about us leaving the CFS, which would save the Union $16k, has this been something you’ve talked about? Zoe: this fee is actually levied, it’s separate from the Union dues so if we left the CFS we wouldn’t get that money.

Q: Concerned that the University is running itself into the ground, is there a plan at the admin level to increase enrolment? Aidan: this is their number one convo right now. They’re making a lot of changes and focusing on recruitment in different ways. There are some positive changes being made to attract students.

Q: What’s the Union going to do to inform students not at this town hall about the referendum and what’s at stake? Aidan: hopefully people are watching the live stream! Goal was to create a pamphlet and that will be circulated, we’ll also be in discussion with students over the next several weeks about what it would mean to vote yes or no.

Ella: comments and questions about the Galley can also be brought to me, I’m always around and our staff has been talking about this a lot because we employ students and also eat here. Encourage everyone to come and speak with us.

Q: Has the Exec thought about the wording of the referendum question? Aidan: it will be put forward at Council, something like ‘Be It Resolved That Union dues increase by $22.38 per term effective next year,’ also to increase with inflation, etc. -Q: Yeah this was unclear before, we don’t know how much we’re paying. Aidan: ok we’ll work on this.

Q: Why is the KSU fee so much higher than these numbers in our actual tuition statements? Zoe: there are other levies and fees that we pay that the Union just collects and remits, they’ve been approved separately, they’re not Union operating costs and we don’t control that money.

Q: HC manages Wardy and Galley, proposed increase is to $45k, what’s the salary for a similar position at the DSU? Aidan: Grawood manager makes $60-$70k. Q: Where did this number come from? Aidan: the DSU told us.

Adam: echoing Ella earlier, please come talk to us! These student manager positions aren’t accessible either and there’s a lot of burnout.

Aidan: can you talk about how having a full-time HC would support you better?

Hunter: this year is my second/third year managing Wardy staff, it would be untenable for a student to hold the HC position. This full-time position will be really important.

Ella: a tangible thing that could happen at the Galley if the HC was full-time is new products in the Fall that they found over the summer.

Q: How much to the student managers of the businesses make? Jenn: Hunter is paid $15/hour and Adam is paid $13/hour. Ella is paid $14/hour. Everyone else on staff is at minimum wage, with a $0.25 raise every year they work there.

Q: Applications for FYP next year are up according to sources inside the registrar’s office, thoughts? Aidan: we should be cautious, also recruitment has been restructured and the timing is different, so projections work differently and they aren’t actually sure how it compares to past years.

Q: How many hours per week do the student managers work, and would this decrease with a full-time HC? Hunter: I work 10-15 hours, change wouldn’t affect hours but it would change the kind of work they do and improve what they’re able to do.

Q: Salary raises are usually slow and incremental over many years, why are you suggesting we raise these salaries by 25% or more all at once, how will this be sustained, what will happen the following years? Aidan: we’ve been recognizing areas where we haven’t been able to allocate funds even though there’s an understanding that they need to go up. There’s been a chronic underfunding of these positions, this proposal would allow us to offer a wage that’s comparable to other student unions. This isn’t a one-time increase, we’re fundamentally changing the way we pay our staff people. Further increases will be another conversation. This will allow their pay to be comparable to other student unions.

Q: Exec honoraria, do those include summer? Aidan: no, just for during the year.

Q: “Comparable to other unions,” we’re tiny, how do you do this and figure it out? Aidan: this is a large conversation, we have a part-time exec that are also students, this isn’t the same for other unions who expect their exec to work full-time. These honoraria are comparably low by comparison. Compared to other unions of our size, it’s relatively on par. Me: NSCAD exec make about $9k I think? Zoe: they’re paid hourly, it’s a different system.

Jon: Also interested in how little the Exec are paid, staff work very hard but there is a huge disparity in pay between staff and Executive, wants to recognize that even with structure Exec are very underpaid for their work.

Aidan: that’s part of the discussions we’re having, it’s at a different level from 4 years ago. This conversation is worth having. What’s been proposed is something that’s been arrived at through discussion.

Gina: adding to this, increase to Exec honoraria is important. This referendum is important.

Q: What discussion are you referring to in arriving at these numbers? Aidan: discussions within our Executive and last year’s. Q: so not students in general, just within your Exec? Aidan: yes.

Q: When we’re talking about increasing fees we need to talk about enrolment and retention of local student populations, NS students who don’t live in residence are the most likely to drop out of FYP, how will the KSU work to keep local day students enrolled? Zoe: this has been a conversation and should continue to be, how to make our events accessible to day students.

Aside: there are about thirty people here, we peaked at 40 about an hour ago. (It’s now 8:45.)

We’re done!! Thanks so much for reading along! Video of the whole town hall is on the Watch’s facebook page!