Pep Band Payment Problems

Youngstown State University’s Pep Band plays at every home basketball game. Though the basketball season ended over a month ago, band members only just received payment this week for their work.
Youngstown State University’s Pep Band plays at every home basketball game. Though the basketball season ended over a month ago, band members only just received payment this week for their work.

Though the Youngstown State University basketball season ended on March 14, Pep Band members only just received monetary compensation this week for playing at basketball games — sparking frustration among band members.

“Everyone is upset about it,” John Vitullo, a member of YSU’s Pep Band, said on April 23. “We’ve had students unable to pay rent. I’ve had members of my fraternity not able to pay dues. … I want to be professional about this, but the bottom line is we were promised money.”

In past years, band members received a stipend for their work, earning $20 per basketball game. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, though, all student employees must be paid by the hour.

Michael Zetts, Congressman Tim Ryan’s press secretary, explained the purpose of this new policy.

“If you work 30 hours or more, public universities would have to provide health insurance,” he said. “The reason they ended the stipends, I would assume, is to be able to track hours.”

Seeking an alternative method of payment, the Dana School of Music initially considered giving band members a scholarship for their work. Jack Fahey, vice president of student affairs, however, indicated that by this late into the semester, students have already received any aid that they are entitled to receive for the year.

“[Students] have used up their maximum federal allocations or aid. So, if I process a $500 scholarship now, that means they have to pay $500 back on their loan. So, that means they didn’t really get paid anything,” Fahey said. “So, it’s really a bad, bad option.”

Aside from scholarship compensation, the only other method to pay students is to go through the Office of Student Life — the department that processes all paperwork for student employment and places student employees on the university’s payroll.

Though compensation checks were sent to Pep Band members on April 23, there is no indication that the Dana School of Music processed student employment papers with the Office of Student Life.

“We don’t know anything about the Pep Band members,” Melanie Leonard, an administrative assistant for the Office of Student Life, said. “We have not received anything from any department that they were hiring students to play in the Pep Band. Student Life has no information about the Pep Band members at all. We know nothing about it.”

Jonelle Beatrice, executive director of Student Life, indicated that the Dana School of Music’s failure to process paperwork with the Office of Student Life could be a violation of federal regulations.

“In order for any student to get paid, it has to go through our payroll office and there’s a procedure for that to happen,” Beatrice said. “That is a federal regulation. … We are held to federal regulations.”

Michael Crist, director of the Dana School of Music, ultimately made the decision to distribute checks to the Pep Band members, superseding the Office of Student Life and discounting new federal regulations that mandate that students’ hourly work be tracked.

“At this point, I’ve given my secretary, well, I’ve asked her to process the checks as we’ve done it in the past [before implementation of the Affordable Care Act], and we’ll see what comes out of it,” Crist said. “There we go. The students have done what they’ve been asked to do, so we need to pay them.”

Crist also said he did not know that the Office of Student Life must process student employment papers.

“This process has been unclear to me, so that’s where I stand at this point. The students have been paid,” Crist said. “All I knew is that the students need to be paid. …The students got paid.”

Fahey echoed this sentiment.

“To be honest, I’m just happy they got paid. I wasn’t involved in how it got paid but was very concerned that they got paid in some way,” he said.

The music department is not the only university unit to have experienced difficulty complying with regulations to compensate students.

Adam Earnheardt, financial manager for Rookery Radio, signs off on all of the payments that go to the radio’s executive staff; he said he feels “hampered” by new federal regulations.

“We agree to pay our students the equivalence each semester of a $250 stipend for the work that they do for Rookery Radio; this is for the executive board students. Up until last year, we were just able to cut them a check … at the end of the semester, and everything was fine,” Earnheardt said. “And now, we are required to put in the total number of hours that they’re working, and we have to finagle it in such a way that it comes out at least close to $250.”

Students on the Rookery Radio executive board are paid for 32 hours each semester — though they work far more than 32 hours. Earnheardt explained that they would be better compensated through a stipend.

“You have to put in these, come up with this goofy math just to make it work out in our system. It would be so much easier if there was just a simple way to cut them a check at the end of the semester as a thank you for the work that they did. Instead, we’re kind of hampered by these rules,” Earnheardt said.

While campus departments have complained about the student payment process, Leonard indicated that the Office of Student Life has no choice but to track student hours and comply with the Affordable Care Act’s regulations.

“We have no choice. All student employees had to go onto hourly because of the health care reform. We have to track hours — how many hours they actually work per week. So that’s why we had to do away with stipends,” Leonard said. “We can’t track hours with stipends, but we can with hourly appointments.”

Beatrice further explained that the Office of Student Life is willing to work with these departments to clarify the process.

“We are certainly more than willing to work this out. We’re open to meetings, and we would love to have people come in and fill out their paper work so we can get them payment. But, that’s the only way we know how to do it to meet regulations,” Beatrice said.