July 21, 2006
Baton Rouge, LA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- This November, the sixth-annual LSU Student Government bus trip will transport a group of 500 students to the University of Tennessee to see the Tigers football team play the Volunteers in historic Neyland Stadium. Bus rental and gas expenses for the trip will cost approximately $32,690, with that total being paid entirely by the student body.
Under an agreement with Gulf South Travel, SG will pay $32,690 for seven 55-passenger buses and gas, costs that will be financed by the SG Initiative Fund, an account that collects a $1 service fee from each student every spring semester.
Rising gas and bus rental expenses have caused the total trip cost to significantly increase, prompting questions about the necessity and financial viability of the activity. SG President Chris Odinet said that while the concerns are valid, SG has worked to find the most inexpensive solution and keep trip costs at a minimum.
"We sent out bids to four regional bus companies to find the lowest rate," Odinet said. "Gulf South, the company we chose, was the cheapest, but the rising cost of gas is uncontrollable and has inflated the total trip cost."
While the SG Initiative Fund will cover trip costs, students attending the trip will pay $50 for each game ticket, money that the LSU Athletic Department will receive. There is also an additional $25 trip fee that will cover the cost of the T-shirt and pre-game meal SG will provide each student.
Last year, SG received $3,000 in bus rental funding from the Coca-Cola Corp., whose 2006 $60,000 grant has been used to sponsor the LSU summer reading program and a beautification project of campus lakes. SG also received 500 donated sack lunches from LSU Dining Services for last year's trip, while student trip fees paid for the other meal.
This year's 27-hour Tennessee trip will require three meals, two of which will be paid for through the student service fee. SG hopes the other meal will be donated by Dining Services, who donated one meal for last year's trip. No agreement has been reached, although the two groups are currently in discussions about the meal donation.
The SG Initiative Fund is an account used to support any student service project the organization deems worthy, and in the past has funded on-campus newspaper subscriptions and the student carpool parking lot. Odinet defended the bus trip funding, saying the trip serves students by providing them with transportation to a game that many wouldn't normally have the opportunity to attend.
"The funds in that account can be used to support any student service project," Odinet said. "We felt that by funding this trip, we're serving the students by offering a popular program that they themselves continue to support. We haven't received any complaints from students requesting that the money be spent another way."
Until this year, trip tickets were first-come, first-serve, which created long lines and ticket sellouts within the first two hours of sale. But a recent Athletic Department decision has allocated 200 of the 500 available tickets to students at the top of the priority points system, a 2005 measure designed to reward students who attend a variety of LSU athletic events with priority tickets to major events.
In addition, 30 SG members, eight chaperones and one LSU Police Officer attended last year's trip, the overall number of available trip tickets. With 200 tickets now allocated to a specific group and less than 300 tickets available to the general student body, the growing competition for tickets may exclude other student groups. Odinet said that he believes SG e-mails and ads have raised awareness about the trip among the entire student body.
"I'd love to allocate more trip tickets, but the other school has consistently provided our Athletic Department with a maximum of 500 away-game student tickets," Odinet said. "Those numbers are set, but I feel like last year we had an even group of lower and upperclassmen, including freshmen. The SG staff who attend go as chaperones and also as people who just want to see the game."
While the ticket numbers are set, there is past precedent for cost-saving adjustments. Former SG Vice President Patrick Downs said the group considered attending an away game last year in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University, but decided against it after potential costs exceeded the $18,000 required to travel to the University of Alabama, the eventual bus trip destination. Downs said the administration weighed several factors, including the fairness of using student service fees to fund a trip that less than 1 percent of the student body population can attend.
"As we saw it last year, SG did have the money to pay for the entire trip, through Coca-Cola grants and student service fees," Downs said. "But we wanted to limit costs to ensure that students who actually attended the trip were the ones supplying most of the money to pay for it, and not vice versa."
Downs said the SG Initiative Fund supplied $15,000 for last year's trip, with the remaining $3,000 needed to cover gas and bus rental expenses coming from a Coca-Cola grant. Part of the $12,500 raised in total student trip fees paid for student T-shirts, while the remainder was re-deposited in the Initiative Fund to cover part of the trip cost and fund the carpool lot and other SG projects during the 2005-06 academic year.
SG Chief of Staff Ryan Berni said he believes last year's final trip cost was closer to $28,000.
"The SG records indicate that the final cost of last year's trip was $28,000," Berni said.
Documents obtained from last year's trip indicate that the final trip cost was $18,000. These documents include a quote sheet from four regional bus companies and a cost analysis sheet.
"To the best of my knowledge, the final cost was $18,000," said Raoul Manalac, who co-organized the trip as SG's assistant director of programming during the 2005-06 academic year.
Regardless of the cost, Berni said his office was mindful of cost concerns and had considered attending one of the other three away games at Auburn, Arkansas or Florida. But twice, the SG office ran into scheduling conflicts, with the Florida game coinciding with fall break and the Arkansas game the day after Thanksgiving. Berni said the deciding factor between Tennessee and Alabama was an SG poll of students who attended last year's trip, the majority of whom voted in favor of attending the Tennessee game.
"We ran into problems with each of the away games," Berni said. "The trip is popular, so we want to continue to do it, but we don't want to ignore the overwhelming sentiment of the students, who preferred Tennessee over Auburn."
SG is currently seeking corporate grants from local and University entities in hopes of funding a potential basketball game bus trip or off-setting any additional costs, including T-shirts or meals, from this trip. Tickets will go on sale in early September at the Student Union, which Odinet said will ultimately determine the future of the SG bus trip.
"Demand for this trip has risen every year SG has done it," Odinet said. "If it decreases, we'll consider using the money for something else. But for now, I believe it's a project worthy of our funding."
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(C) 2006 The Daily Reveille via CSTV U-WIRE