Two students say there are irregularities with the U of T Students’ Union’s budget. Jack Phelan and Mike Maher have filed a report with UTSU, arguing that students’ health and dental fees are funding other projects. UTSU denies the claim, insisting that their finances are in good health and that there is nothing wrong with the budget.
The report estimates that UTSU is spending around $160,000 on the administration of the health and dental plan, out of a total $360,000 earmarked for administering the service. The authors surmise that UTSU must be using the remainder to finance other projects, because they have a balanced operating budget.
Health and dental plans cost $54.84 and $46.71, respectively, per semester. Out of these fees, administration fees account for $3.16 per semester from each plan (around $12 per year for a full-year student), which goes to UTSU. The report argues that using health and dental fees for other purposes violates the university’s Policy on Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees.
“The money has simply been placed into general revenue, providing no reliable means for constituents of the Union to determine which projects and services the fee has funded,” the report reads. The authors say that since students can opt out of health and dental plans, those who paid the fee are disproportionately funding activities for the whole campus.
Maher unsuccessfully ran for VP internal of UTSU last year, as part of the Change slate. He is VP external of the Innis College Student Society. Phelan, VP finance of the ICSS, also wrote a report on last year’s UTSU election.
The two noticed a discrepancy in the budget earlier this year. “When I was looking through the UTSU’s operating budget, there was a revenue line that struck me as odd,” Maher said. “Adnan [Najmi] basically said something to the effect of well, sometimes you get a surplus in one area, and a deficit in another, and you just balance it out.”
UTSU rejected the report’s conclusions. “There are a lot of assumptions in this report that are false and the allegations that are made are made on false assumptions,” said Angela Regnier, UTSU’s executive director.
“A lot of the realities of how the health and dental plans are administered are unknown to these authors who are purporting to be experts on the plan and [on] budgeting.”
Phelan and Maher responded that they had no choice but to make estimates for information, as none of this information is available through UTSU. For example, they used 20.5 per cent—the proportion of all UTSU revenue generated by health and dental administrative funds—as their “golden ratio” to estimate roughly how much HR, supplies, and resources the administration of health and dental would require.
“For a $1.8-million budget they’ve released a three-page document,” said Maher. “This had to be uncovered by sifting through a very limited body of documentation.”
UTSU does not have a document showing any breakdown of the $360,000 allotted to health and dental. Najmi, Regnier, and president Sandy Hudson said there is no surplus.
Najmi said this practice is the industry standard, and that it is neither irregular nor inappropriate.
“You’re asking me, if I put three boxes of Smarties in a bowl and distributed the Smarties, which came from which box,” said Najmi. “[It] wouldn’t make sense to present in our budget a specific breakdown of what goes where.” Such a breakdown would involve tracking the hours each staff member spends on health and dental, and portioning their salaries accordingly, he said.
Phelan and Maher sent the report to UTSU on Jan. 19 and requested a response within 10 days. They say the lack of response is symptomatic of a larger problem. “It’s a culture of secrecy,” said Maher. “If this wasn’t an issue of secrecy, I would have gotten an email on Wednesday saying ‘Hey, this is what we do.’”
Hudson called the report malicious. “To ask us to make a report within 10 days is completely unreasonable,” she said. Hudson added that UTSU is in good financial health and that they passed their annual financial audit.