When numbers matter

You don’t have to be good at math to see the problems in UTMSU’s budget


I’m not someone who’s particularly knowledgeable about numbers. I performed decently in high school math,  but understanding finances is a completely different story.

I was in the office over the weekend with our bookkeeper, familiarizing myself with where our files are kept and what kinds of work she does. Thankfully, I had her to teach me how  everything works, such as payroll, and tracking revenue and invoices. That kind of information is pretty useful for someone who’s in charge of handling levy funding for a relatively large organization on campus, to say the least.

But here’s the thing: there are other groups on campus with similar—and even greater—student funding. The students who run them are responsible for handling the money you pay each year with your tuition.

It’s easy to assume that whoever is in charge of the money knows what he or she is doing. But they’re students just like you. In fact, as a news story this week about the UTMSU Food Centre reveals, sometimes those in charge of the money don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t handle the funding responsibly.

The numbers are in the preliminary budget for this year, available on the UTMSU website. UTMSU will also have to present its audited financials from the previous fiscal year at its annual general meeting, likely later this semester.

It’s a legal requirement for not-for-profit corporations to present these statements to its members. Predicatably, when the financials are presented at these meetings, a lot of the information goes over our heads. It’s even worse when the person delivering the presentation simply reads the numbers without much explanation.

Even when preparing the story “Chronic underspending continues for food centre,” our news editor had to consult outside sources to help make sense of the numbers in UTMSU’s budget. Understanding these numbers is not something that comes easily, but it’s essential if you care about how your money is spent.

Furthermore, it doesn’t take an expert to look at UTMSU’s budget and see that something is wrong. As reported, the food centre has been significantly underspending its levy.

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask.

Well, the food centre levy was actually established by a referendum several years back (when the “food centre” was still a “food bank”), meaning students voted in favour of paying a certain amount each year towards the service, for that specific purpose. But at the end of the fiscal year, when there are leftover funds, they all end up back in the general UTMSU operating budget.

That means some of the money we agreed to pay specifically for the food bank gets used for other purposes. And we don’t know what they are.

By the way, for any club representatives who are struggling with small budgets, did you notice that UTMSU had over $12,000 left over from their academic society levy last year?

And here’s the kicker: they’re planning to have another $14,000 left over this year.

For any student parents on campus who make use of the daycare, notice that the budget doesn’t contain any information on if or how the $12,000 from the daycare levy are used.

While we’re looking at the budget, take out your calculators and add up the totals on page two. Notice anything? That’s right, the numbers don’t add up. They forgot to add the leftover funds from WUSC into their total.

So the number you’re reading at the bottom of that page is in fact wrong. And all it took was a careful look at the financials to figure that out.

These things are worth bringing up when financials are presented at an annual general meeting. But like I said before, they rarely are, either because students do not understand them or no one seems to care.

But groups should also be responsible for appointing the right people to explain their finances in a way that their members will understand.

For example, groups can call in an auditor to present the financials. That at least provides members with a knowledgeable person who can more or less be trusted to provide answers about anything that doesn’t make sense.

But even more important than an auditor is an audience who asks questions. We won’t learn until we take enough care to ask.

Like I said before, understanding finances may not be easy. Our own team at The Medium is made up of students just like you. The difference is that when we don’t understand something, it’s not good enough to just let it go. We have to ask so that we can inform.

Your job as a reader is to pay attention.