Participatory budgeting empowers Palo Alto students and faculty

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Simon Sanchez, computer science sophomore and Student Leadership Coalition member (dressed in black at center), leads a protest Oct. 13 in the courtyard at Palo Alto about the distance to the board meeting in which the trustees will discuss a decision to remove concentrations from associate degrees. Trustees meet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Killen Center. Read the story online.  Photo by Tim Hernandez

Simon Sanchez, computer science sophomore and Student Leadership Coalition member (dressed in black at center), leads a protest Oct. 2014 in the courtyard at Palo Alto about the distance to the board meeting in which the trustees will discuss a decision to remove concentrations from associate degrees. File

A new style of budgeting brings power to the people, sparks ideas for butterfly garden and bus shelter.

By V.G. Garlisi

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Students at Palo Alto College can vote today in the office of student life on how the school should spend $25,000 next semester.

Palo Alto has set aside the funds for student proposals for an annual participatory budgeting program.

Participatory budgeting is a way to manage the school’s money by inviting students to decide how it is spent around campus. The college launched the program in 2013 for faculty and staff, who will continue to choose a project for the school as well.

“This is an opportunity not only for transparency, but for input from students in regards to how the money is being spent,” said Carmen Velasquez, advising team lead for PAC and the budgeting core team.

Palo Alto will divide the $25,000 among 10 student-approved projects, Velasquez said.

The college put project posters on display Nov. 30 detailing each of the student ideas. Velasquez received 14 projects from students, but only 10 will be selected Dec. 7. Voting for all registered students began yesterday and these votes will count directly toward the 10 selected projects. Students can vote in the office of student life for the projects. The office is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Each project selected will receive $2,500, but not every project will need $2,500,” Velasquez said. “We want to see how students do with budgeting and staying on task.”

The 14 projects include the Horticulture Club’s butterfly garden and the Logistics Club’s “Palo Alto Transportation Shelter” to provide disabled students with a climate-controlled room while they wait for VIA transportation.

Leah Badillo, a psychology sophomore at PAC, submitted an idea with Phi Theta Kappa called “Relax, Reflect, Refresh.” Badillo said the project will purchase bright colored furniture to create a spot for students to congregate and socialize.

“We got this idea from our adviser who visited Harvard University,” Badillo said. “In Harvard Yard, students were able to move this bright colored furniture around, have lunch, study and escape from the daily college life.”

Badillo said this project shows an interest in student life and creates a strong connection between the students and their education.

Participatory budgeting began two years ago, when President Michael Flores proposed that staff and faculty submit ideas for budgeting and vote on which one best suited their needs, Velasquez said.

Flores looked at big cities such as Chicago and New York, where residents could decide what projects their tax dollars would go toward and how their money was spent.

Velasquez said Flores decided to bring participatory budgeting to Palo Alto because he wanted to create the same type of empowerment those cities were demonstrating.

“It’s really catching on. Our staff and faculty get excited when they hear about the budgeting,” said Anthony Perez, college coordinator of high school programs and member of the participatory budgeting committee.

“We started out with staff and faculty, because we wanted to work out the kinks and make sure everything ran smoothly before we introduced it to students,” Velasquez said.

Some faculty projects that resulted from the budgeting were Palomino Patio, a gathering place where Staff Council and the president host events. The library has been able to enhance its study rooms with whiteboards, flat screen televisions and iPads for students.

Palo Alto has even created a virtual office where business students can enter into a global business conference room and learn about growing trends in markets around the world.

Flores has earmarked $25,000 a year for faculty and staff and $25,000 for students, bringing the total allowance for participatory budgeting to $50,000 a year.

“This is a budget item that Dr. Flores wanted to commit for everyone here at this college,” Velasquez said.

For students, their projects will be completed by the following semester.

“Students are here on a short-term basis,” Perez said. “We want to complete these student projects by the following semester so they can see the results of their campaign.”

“To see that collaboration is something that you don’t see very often,” Perez said. “Here at PAC that divide is nonexistent. We are really excited to see where it’s going to go.”

For more information call 210-486-3125 or visit www.alamo.edu/pac/student-pb/.

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