BEHIND THE SCENES
BUDGET PLANNING & ADMINISTRATION
These days, budget is on everyone’s minds. Economic conditions around the world draw our attention almost daily. Nothing captivates the interest of the Sac State community more than California and CSU budgets which, in recent years, have had significant impacts on the campus. And no one is more attentive than Budget Planning & Administration (BPA), because state and system budgets drive their work activities.
Most of us have managed a personal or family budget, some of us organizational budgets. We make adjustments for shifting conditions, monitor spending and try to live within our means. But not many of us have experience managing a multi-million dollar budget, where revenues can shift often and considerably, and where accountability to the public demands prudent stewardship.
Sac State’s operational budget of over $250 million is derived from state appropriations and student fee revenue, and disbursed across the University to cover operating and mandatory costs, compensation, student grants, and work study. The University’s special funds comprise another segment of the budget, adding even more complexity. Separate and distinct from the operational budget, special funds include Lottery and the Student Health Center, and self-support entities such as the College of Continuing Education, Housing, Parking, and the University Union.
So, how does the University administer its budget, especially with the interests of so many constituents at stake? What role does BPA play in the process? And, how does a staff of five leverage its resources to accomplish such a big job?
BPA supports an integrated university-wide budget process and the advisory body responsible for making budget recommendations to the president. University Budget Advisory Committee (UBAC) members represent University stakeholders to ensure broad input and transparency. BPA’s associate vice president is a UBAC member, and department staff serves the committee and the process by supplying critical financial information, budget expertise and analysis. This includes development of budget forecasts based on changing economic and enrollment conditions, and simplification of complex data to promote understanding for those new to the process. When changes in state and CSU allocations are predicted, BPA is at work running numbers so that the University can address a shifting set of scenarios. This foundation facilitates an informed annual resource allocation process.
This budget planning and development process has helped Sac State through some of its toughest years yet. With a group well versed in the mechanics of the University budget, strong financial projections, broad representation and a built-in feedback loop from divisions, the University has managed to lessen the blows of repeated budget cuts.
Support for UBAC and the annual budget process is probably BPA’s most critical job, but it represents only a portion of what they do. Once allocation decisions are made, department staff prepares and distributes the University’s annual operating budget, and throughout the year, they review and implement post-allocation changes such as budget transfers, supplements, carry forwards and release time requests. In addition, on a daily basis, they process Payroll Transaction forms and manage the University’s positions in the Common Management System (CMS). Monthly, they distribute the University’s payroll from the State Controller’s Office pay tape through the campus Labor Cost Distribution (LCD) system, and allocate benefits from central accounts to department ChartStrings.
A complex budget invites misperceptions, and BPA works hard to dispel confusion by providing information in simple formats. Two major reports are prepared by the department every year -- the Annual Report for Budget, Expenditures and Financial Information, which promotes transparency by detailing the sources and uses of funds, and the Annual FIRMS Budget, a higher level summary submitted to the Chancellor’s Office for system-wide reporting purposes.
Over the years, the responsibilities of the department have expanded well beyond the narrow scope of budget management to include primary support for the university-wide budget planning process, financial planning, human resources and technology; this, in addition to the preparation of special studies and financial models to support financial decision-making for future plans, such as capital construction, and other major undertakings.
The department works with self-support campus entities, such as Housing, Parking and the University Union, on long-range financial projections for non-capital projects and other financial matters. At any time, BPA staff may be involved in research related to these and other projects where revenues and expenditures, fund balances, purchase orders and billing are involved. The biggest challenge for the BPA team is juggling multiple, often competing, projects, along with daily responsibilities.
BPA’s broad clientele base demands that staff work effectively with units and individuals across the campus and the CSU, as they provide management reporting to University administrators in both academic and non-academic areas, and training, advice and assistance to account managers, resource analysts and other financial staff; in addition, serving as liaison with the financial divisions of the Chancellor’s Office. Technology system overlaps with the Human Resources side puts BPA in touch with system administrators routinely, and more often when system changes require team planning with Information Resources & Technology (IRT).
Like many ABA offices, BPA works quietly and efficiently behind the scenes, and many are unaware of the scope and magnitude of their work. High standards drive performance, where accuracy and timeliness are de rigueur. The team is skilled at problem solving and analysis, understands the environment well enough to set the right priorities, and is proficient with a variety of financial systems and tools. Above all, they are solid team players and service providers. One key to success, according to Stacy Hayano, associate vice president, is the focus on staff development and cross-training, which not only creates opportunities for staff to learn and evolve, but strengthens the ability of the team to perform in the absence of any member.
The department has a lot to be proud of. They assisted in obtaining approval for the campus’ most recent major construction projects, The WELL, American River Courtyard, and Parking Structure III, developing long-term financial plans to ensure each project’s fiscal viability. They were major players in the successful conversion of the Common Financial System (CFS), a system-wide project that combined the financial structures for all 23 CSU campuses into a single system, all within a very aggressive timeline. Hayano attributes this to the dedicated efforts of the team. They are “extremely focused and work hard to produce timely and accurate results. They have a lot of pride in producing solid work.”
Despite rigorous project schedules, and a challenging budget environment, the BPA team continues to find new ways to improve processes and provide better services. The office has made an almost complete transformation from paper to an automated environment, through the development of electronic forms, network file sharing and e-mail. Reporting tools such as the Cognos data warehouse afford BPA the ability to build customized reports on demand, increasing staff skills and reducing reliance on external technology expertise. Overall, these changes have created a much more efficient office, with the advantages of quicker response time and substantial reductions in the use of materials and external resources.