August 21 was like any other day for Bikes and Boards Head Manager Megan Vahabi. But by 4:30 PM, the future of her job and service became uncertain.
In a meeting with AMS Vice President (University Affairs) Palmer Lockridge and Retail Services Director Monica Przyborowski, Vahabi, ConEd ‘18 was told effective immediately, Bikes and Boards would no longer operate as a retail service. “They will be transitioning [it] into an AMS Club and this decision was ‘out of their hands’,” Vahabi told the Journal about what was said in the meeting. “[The decision] was ‘above them’, made by [Chair of the Board of Directors], Mike Blair,” she continued.
Board of Directors Decision and AMS response
During the Board of Directors strategic planning process, which took place over the summer, Chairperson Blair told the Journal that Bikes and Boards budget projected a $40,274 deficit for the fiscal year of 2018. This deficit, along with a projected retained deficit — a deficit accumulated over nine years — of $195,161 by April 2021, confirmed by the Board of Directors financial model in brief, referred a review of the repair shop by the Finance and Risk Committee on July 9.
On July 11, the Finance and Risk Committee commissioned the full review of Bikes and Boards. After looking at market factors, competition in Kingston and the capacity for the repair shop to operate as a profitable service, the Finance and Risk Committee met on August 15 to accept the findings of their report and recommended the transition of Bikes and Boards from corporate service into a student club.
A special meeting of the Board convened on August 16 to approve the request of the Finance and Risk Committee.
“Due to the availability of comparable services in the Kingston area and the fact that the service is not financially viable, the Board determined that it was necessary to close it as a corporate service and transition it into a club,” the Board of Directors fact sheet said about Bikes and Boards. “The timing of the transition [to club] was chosen to mitigate as much of the projected deficit as possible, which is especially important given the impending minimum wage increases and the effect that they will have on the AMS’s financial position and ability to fund other ongoing programs.”
As part of the transition plan from service to club, Blair said all of Bikes and Boards’ current assets — including but not limited to their bikes, tools and skate sharpener — will be saved for the club’s new executive. In addition to this, the club won’t be charged an administrative cost recovery fee and will receive a $2,500 grant from the Board of Directors.
“To allow Bikes and Boards to serve its mandate and the student body, it will be better operated as a club that is not reliant on revenue generation every year, and that is why it is being entrusted with the inventory and tools purchased by the AMS,” AMS President Jennifer Li wrote in an email interview with the Journal. “There are many student clubs that are not directly administered by the AMS that do remarkable work and provide services to students, and we are confident that Bikes and Boards will be one of them moving forward.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Bikes and Boards will also keep their space in the JDUC.
“We are guaranteeing the space for a year to assist in the transition but after that [Bikes and Boards] will be subject to the current space allocation process that any club will be,” Blair said.
In an exception to normal policy, the Board also approved that all waged staff employees at Bikes and Boards would be given the special eligibility to apply for service staff positions during the AMS’ fall hiring period. This exception doesn’t apply to Vahabi.
“The Head Manager of Bikes and Boards when it was a corporate service is not eligible to apply during this hiring period, in accordance with AMS Hiring and Appointment Policies and Procedures,” Li wrote in an email interview with the Journal. “She was offered the opportunity to remain as President of the Bikes and Boards club that will continue serving student transportation needs in the coming year.”
With the decision made, the onus now falls onto Lockridge and the AMS executive to help Bikes and Boards become a ratified club. Moving forward, Lockridge said they will hire a club executive for Bikes and Boards, help them to assess their assets, talk about the grant they will be receiving and how they can best utilize the space.
“I will work with anyone who is interested in running the new club to make sure that they get through the ratification process this fall which happens to be mid-to-end September,” he said.
Breakdown in Communication
Prior to August 21, Vahabi told the Journal there weren’t any signs from the AMS or the Board of Directors during her term that led her to believe they were going to terminate Bikes and Boards as a service.
“We were doing very well [this year] and we weren’t given the opportunity to expand the way we would have hoped [to as] mentioned in our goal plan,” she said.
Although Vahabi didn’t want to go into specifics, AMS President Jennifer Li later confirmed with the Journal that the Bikes and Boards goal plan was approved on July 9. The budget, which was presented on July 30, wasn’t.
Prior to her year as head manager, Vahabi met with former Bikes and Boards head manager Lang Bunka and Former Vice President’s (Operations) Dave Walker and (University Affairs) Carolyn Thompson following the dissolving of the Commission of Environmental Affairs.
Here, she was told the repair shop was going to transition from a government service to become a retail service. To do this, Vahabi said they were going to establish new visual identity standards, create more brand recognition, provide services throughout the year and solidify their social media presence — something Vahabi said all other retail services have the capacity to do.
“We had adequate services to provide to students and there are so many people on campus who want to ride bikes and are passionate about sustainable methods of transportation and we were able to supply those needs and meet the demands,” she said about Bikes and Boards this year.
As far as Vahabi was concerned, Bikes and Boards was having a successful summer. With Orientation Week looming, Vahabi said herself and her assistant managers had already booked rooms and began to prepare for their volunteer training.
“Everything was on par as it should be and then this dropped and it came out of left field and it was a massive shock to myself and my whole team as well,” she said.
Since the decision, Vahabi said the AMS Executive hasn’t reached out to her.
Although she said she won’t take part in the clubs era of Bikes and Boards, she believes it has a lot of potential.
“For the community’s sake, I hope the club does well because it would be a shame for that space to dwindle … it’s really awesome for what it is,” she said.
Reaction on Campus
Immediately following the AMS posting their news release on Facebook, former and present student leaders began to express concerns over the lack of information behind the decision.
Former Campus Activities Commissioner, Greg Kurcin wrote, “While I understand the thought process of wanting to alleviate potential financial losses, I do not understand, and I’m sure the now former staff of Bikes and Boards do not understand the immediate need to save this money. This was also Bikes and Boards first year being a corporate service and they didn’t even get four months. Are we now setting the precedent that financial hardship = immediate closure rather than analysis and reform?”
“As a non-profit organization which exists to further the best interests of undergraduate students and is dedicated to the goal of providing experiential learning opportunities for these students I still do not understand why this decision had to be made now, especially given that the decision as I currently see it hurts students more than it helps them,” he continued.
Following the general response on social media, Vahabi said she feels a sense of solidarity from those on campus.
“This service, given the outcry, just proves the importance of it on campus and how students care so much for Bikes and Boards and love it, so having that solidarity on social media was incredible because it strengthens my resolve to fight for what’s right,” she said.
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