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BC Interim President Gary Locke’s Update on KBCS

July 1, 2020 - 12:15 am

The following email was sent to the Bellevue College Community on Tuesday, June 30th, by the college’s Interim President, Gary Locke and is being shared here for the KBCS community to see as well.

“Dear Bellevue College Community,

Shortly after assuming the interim presidency at Bellevue College, I learned of the budget shortfall at the BC Radio Station, KBCS for FY 2020-2021 and the decision of the General Manager to balance the budget by not renewing the contracts of two full-time employees (News Director and Program Director). The reason for the budget shortfall at KBCS is the lack of sufficient total revenue or income to the station despite meeting its community fundraising goal this past spring. Part of the shortfall is due to an unfilled commitment by former President Weber to provide $180,000 in College funds to KBCS.

On June 24, the KBCS General Manager met with me and submitted an appeal of the unfilled commitment to provide funds to the radio station. In considering this appeal, I conducted a thorough review of the station’s financial history and its organizational framework. Based on my findings, I have decided to grant the appeal by providing KBCS funds from the President’s discretionary account sufficient to fund the two positions in the upcoming fiscal year. This will be a one-time allocation. Moving forward, KBCS must achieve financial self-sufficiency and balance its budget without subsidies from the College.

Many members of the College and local community have expressed their support and admiration of the work of the News Director and their concerns about the decision by KBCS not to renew the contract of the News Director. There is no question that the News Director is a highly respected professional producing stories of great significance and well-received by listeners.  However, there were many inaccurate facts, statements, and accusations in communications from supporters that must be corrected.

KBCS has been operating with deficits for years. The College has subsidized the station approximately $774,000 over the past five years to cover expenses and balance its budget. KBCS’s revenue is made up of listener donations, underwriting (advertisements), sponsorships, and grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While the station met its community fundraising goal this past year, those funds do not come close to covering the station’s expenses. Compounding the problem, income from underwriting and sponsorships has been declining, down $100,000 from last year and $200,000 from two years ago.

In late 2018, President Weber moved KBCS operations from Informational Technology Services to Institutional Advancement and directed the station to become self-sufficient within a few years. Because the station was not on target to become self-sufficient, President Weber committed to provide a subsidy of $180,000 to KBCS for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, that commitment was not kept. Making matters more difficult, the Associated Student Government voted a few months ago to end their annual funding of $32,000 to the station.

Thus, the combination of declining underwriting and sponsorship revenue and the end of the subsidies from the College and students means that expenses for 2020-2021 will exceed expected revenue by $190,000. Given that 83% of the station’s expenses are for personnel, the General Manager made the difficult decision to cut two positions whose duties could be reassigned with the least risk to immediate operations. The General Manager, for instance, proposed taking over the duties of the Program Manager.

Some have stated that the College’s claim of KBCS budgetary problems is questionable because the station is at the same time trying to hire a person. First, that position supports audit compliance, collects and records the large number of gifts pledged by listeners, invoices pledges that have not been sent or donated to the station, and helps track and fulfill underwriting income. Second, even if the position is not filled, there would still be a deficit of $120,000.

Many supporters of the News Director offered to raise money from the community to cover that position’s salary. While the sentiment is admirable, this would not be a viable option for KBCS. Within public radio, receiving funds for the employment of a specific individual could be considered quid pro quo and raises questions of lack of impartiality and independence.  Furthermore, even if issues of impartiality are addressed, relying on community fundraising would be operationally very difficult.  Even if the College were to fund the salaries for a few months, the employees would have no guarantees that the fundraising would be successful so that they could retain their positions for the remainder of the year.  This would impose great uncertainty on the employee.

However, because of the station’s difficult financial situation, community fundraising is more important than ever before.  Unless the station can reverse the decline in underwriting revenue, the future of the station is in doubt. To ensure the station is able to keep a News Director and other critical staff in the future, I encourage those groups, who offered to raise funds to retain the News Director, to raise that same amount, but for the station in general—and above and beyond the planned community fundraising goals.

The budget deficit situation at KBCS is very complex and is several years in the making. KBCS, like the College, is facing serious budget challenges ahead. I have agreed to provide a one-time allocation from the President’s discretionary account to KBCS, but the station must become financially self-sufficient and balance its budget in the upcoming years without subsidies from the College.

In addition to providing KBCS a financial subsidy from the College for FY21, I have taken two additional actions. First, I have directed the General Manager to assemble an advisory committee of listeners, supporters, and campus stakeholders to provide guidance, feedback, and support on station finances, long-range planning programming. Second, I am examining the reporting structure of KBCS to determine if a reorganization is appropriate.

I value the community’s support of KBCS and appreciate all those who have shared their concerns regarding recent staffing decisions. The General Manager has shared with me that he intends to retain the News Director and Program Director positions with the subsidy provided by the College.

Gary Locke

Interim President”