ASWC Floats Switch from Stipend to Hourly Pay

The plan – which is in its early stages – would necessitate a major increase in the student fee

Andy Monserud, Staff Reporter

ASWC and ASWC-paid positions have long been compensated with stipends for each semester served. That may change if a few student representatives have their way. A plan is in the works—though still in the very early stages—to make those positions compensated hourly.

The idea is a passion project of senior ASWC Finance Chair Mitch Cutter, though it will not be ready for debate or implementation before he graduates and his position is filled by junior Chris Meabe.

“Every year, whenever ASWC tries to pass the ASWC budget in senate, a discussion always emerges on why we pay certain people certain stipends versus others,” Cutter said. “There’s different lines of logic. Obviously you pay people more if they work more, that’s a no-brainer. But there’s a distinction in some positions as far as a lot of the Executive Council positions are so time-consuming that you can’t really get another job on campus.”

Cutter first started exploring the idea in earnest when first-year senator David Lilburn made a platform promise to make ASWC more accessible to students who need to work to pay tuition and other expenses.

“One of my constituents was like ‘I want to run for ASWC, but it’s not financially feasible for me because I’m on work study,’” Lilburn said. As part of the Finance Committee, Lilburn has collaborated with Cutter to compile data on the hours that ASWC-paid positions entail. Hours were self-reported, Lilburn said, by those currently holding positions.

Such a change is estimated to result in an increase in pay for all the positions examined except the General Manager of KWCW. Most ASWC-paid staff would see increases somewhere between $80 and $1000 annually. The staffers that would stand to benefit the most include the editorial board of The Wire, for such a change would mean raises of over a thousand dollars across the board, and $6600 for its Editor-in-Chief and Publisher. Top staff at the yearbook, Sound and Lights, Blue Moon and some high-level staffers at KWCW would also receive raises in the area of $1000-$3000, according to the analysis; the Power and Privilege Symposium Chair would also receive an estimated extra $1925 in annual compensation, and ASWC’s Oversight Chair and Vice Chair would receive the largest increases in compensation of any ASWC member.

With all those pay raises, this plan would come at a high price, according to the analysis—an estimated extra $102,986.25 paid out in annual salaries. That leads to an estimated increase of $72.94 to the student fee. Cutter and other ASWC Executive Council members would likely put that increase to a vote, Cutter said.

Asking students for that much extra money is a hard sell, Cutter said, but there may be ways to cushion the blow. Federal work-study money cannot be used for stipend positions, but can be used to pay for hourly wages. That cannot be counted on, Cutter said, since ASWC has no way of knowing how many of its paid employees will eventually qualify for work-study money, but it could cut costs. Cutter has also discussed with college administrators ways to cut ASWC expenses by redistributing some of ASWC’s financial responsibilities to the college. Which responsibilities exactly, Cutter wouldn’t say.

The college, he said, has a vested interest because ASWC’s current pay system is somewhat questionable in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, an issue confirmed by college controller Walter Froese.

“If the IRS were to ever look at or audit the non-employee treatment of these ASWC positions the College, as the employer of record, would have to explain or defend that treatment,” Froese wrote in an email. “This doesn’t mean it is non-compliant or wrong, it would just need to be explained … Additionally, because a record of time would be documented, the College would be able to explain, based on the documentation of time, why such positions wouldn’t receive ACA … benefits.”

The entire question, Cutter stressed, is still deep in “maybe” territory. Ultimately the responsibility to see it through would go to Meabe, his successor as Finance Chair. Cutter has made a point of keeping Meabe up to date on the topic while Meabe studies abroad this year. Meabe said he is still at “point zero” in terms of putting a plan together, but is seriously considering the suggestion and hopes to do more research.

“[Work-study] students have to make a choice between their own financial security and their ability to have a voice in a student government that, among other things, sets a student fee that puts an even greater financial burden on them. I think that’s pretty messed up,” Meabe said. “I’d like to try and make the system a little less messed up, and this might be one way to do that.”