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Several Associated Students Organization cabinet members gathered together after a meeting in the Communications Building on May 30. (Taylor Sharp | The Union)

Student government faces budget deficit

June 1, 2023

The Associated Students Organization is grappling with a deficit that poses a significant threat to the future of student activities, clubs and other vital programs.

The deficit started during the 2022-2023 academic year when administrative services projected Associated Students Organization (ASO) with a revenue of $470,000.

The projected revenue came from 2021-2022 budget numbers.

Despite this, the revenue projected was only around $360,000.

“We as an organization are bleeding,” Ricky Gonzalez, interim director of the Student Development Office, said.

The ASO Benefits Pass, which funds 100% of the budget, gives students discounts for various services and goods around El Camino.

However, students are opting out of the pass by 50% which diminishes ASO’s funding.

ASO has taken proactive measures, including cutting its allocation of the budget, to address the financial situation by ensuring continued funding for its various programs including the Inter-Club Council.

“They [ASO] were misinformed about this by the previous Director and Dean of Student Support Services,” Gonzalez said. “These projections were not probably distributed.”

According to Gonzalez, the issues of ASO were amplified by the departure of several advisers: Student Service Specialist Chris De La Cruz, Student Services Adviser Debbie Allison, Director of Student Services Greg Toya and Dean of Student Support Services Idonia Reyes.

Allison returned from maternity leave, but De La Cruz, Toya and Reyes left for other jobs at Cerritos, Santa Ana and Antelope Valley colleges.

Allison responded via email, referring The Union to Gonzalez regarding “ASO financial matters.” Reyes also responded via email, saying “I am not sure what you are talking about. I left ECC on March 15th.”

The Union reached out to De La Cruz and Toya three times via email and phone but they were not available for comment.

The departure of the student advisers left ASO leaderless from August 2022 to March 2023 until the arrival of Gonzalez.

“ASO has been incurring the cost themselves,” Gonzalez said, highlighting ASO’s reserve funds are $1.2 million which are used to keep ASO funded during emergencies.

Gonzalez emphasized there is a real possibility ASO will have to use the reserve funds if its revenue remains low.

“ASO and all ASO-funded programs would cease to exist within 5 years,” Gonzalez said.

Interim Director of the Student Development Office Ricky Gonzalez works at his desk in the Communications Building on May 30. Regarding the student government's deficit, Gonzalez said there is a possibility the Associated Students Organization will have to use their reserve funds if generated revenue remains low. (Taylor Sharp | The Union)
Interim Director of the Student Development Office Ricky Gonzalez works at his desk in the Communications Building on May 30. Regarding the student government’s deficit, Gonzalez said there is a possibility the Associated Students Organization will have to use their reserve funds if generated revenue remains low. (Taylor Sharp | The Union)

ASO Funded Programs that will be affected include Athletics, the Career Center, commencement, counseling, First Year Experience, Forensics, Student Support Services, the Transfer Center and the journalism program.

Forensics coach Britany Hubble said if the program didn’t receive funding from ASO, students would miss out on attending tournaments that could help them earn scholarship opportunities.

“We would have to be a smaller team, not travel as much and no longer compete as much,” Hubble said.

Director of Forensics and communications professor Francesca Bishop told The Union the deficit would “decimate” the program as ASO provides around 60% of their budget and said the district “has to take over funding” by increasing their contribution.

“It’s the only way to guarantee consistency so we do not have to worry about the budget,” Bishop said.

The Union’s budget would be impacted by this deficit as the journalism program relies on ASO funding to operate the newspaper, website and Warrior Life Magazine.

Journalism and English professor Kate McLaughlin said the “whole operational budget” for the program is funded by ASO.

“Everything that we are given to instruct students in journalism and to run the program comes from ASO,” McLaughlin said. “To us our operating budget is everything.”

McLaughlin said if this five-year projection were to happen, the district “should do what it should be doing now” and pay the cost of its journalism program.

“I don’t believe that the district would not fund its journalism program,” McLaughlin said. “Nobody wants to censor or silence student voices.”

Director of Athletics Jeffrey Miera told The Union the ASO has historically given the athletics department funding in addition to the funds they receive from the district every fiscal year for their budget.

“The money that (ASO) have provided us has been utilized for a number of things including equipment and all of those kinds of things that go into the (athletics) department,” Miera said.

For funding situations like this, Miera said the department does not have a reserve account and would “have to adjust accordingly” within their given budget if the department were to get cutbacks in the future.

One of the requirements the ASO is working on is promoting the benefits pass, especially to their funded programs and clubs.

Besides the programs, ASO also funds the different student clubs, and they are also working on having club members sign up for the benefits pass.

Current ASO Vice President Luisa Paredes is the president of the E-Sports Club and said she requires the members to acquire the pass.

“We have a lot of members and the equipment we require is expensive,” Paredes said. “It is only fair that we help them if we are going to ask for help too.”

ASO President-elect Jose Merino is eager to get things right and hopes to get the deficit resolved during his tenure.

“We have been in contact and communicating with programs such as First Year Experience and the journalism department,” Merino said.

With a clear mission in mind, Merino expressed the organization’s determination to address the current situation.

“Our job is to straighten the ship,” Merino said. “We are working on establishing some requirements that will help us reach our goal.”

Despite the situation, some good news has happened to help ASO with the deficit.

“This year VP (of Administrative Services, Robert) Suppelsa, has offered that his department is going to cover the cost of Athletics,” ASO Director of Finance Uzair Pasta said. “So that’s $130,000 that’s gonna go back to our operational budget.”

According to Pasta, the deficit is incrementally smaller than it was before.

“It may sound all spooky, but the thing is ASO is gonna be pretty good, hopefully, if we get the salaries off,” Pasta said.

Editor’s note: Final quote corrected on June 2.