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Layoffs likely as federal cuts hit SC's ETV

By Jamie Self
jself@heraldonline.com

Layoffs and program cuts are likely at Educational Television as it prepares for the loss of $588,000 in federal money.

President Linda O’Bryon recently told a state Senate budget panel that she could not speculate on the number of jobs and programs at risk in the network’s proposed $18.8 million budget.

“It’s significant. We will see layoffs. We will see more budget cuts,” O’Bryon told the Senate panel. “And it’s hard because we’ve already cut quite a bit. But we are preparing for it. We have our plans. We still feel we can deliver essential services, and we will do that.”

ETV operates four production facilities, 11 television and eight radio towers, and 600 microwave towers that serve as the network’s “backbone,” broadcasting across the state.

Like many public agencies, ETV has seen significant cuts since 2008. Its work force has dropped to 130 from 225, and its state funding has fallen to about $9 million from $16.5 million.

Two years ago, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed ETV’s state money, but lawmakers overturned the veto.

Last year, lawmakers avoided a veto battle by changing the way ETV gets state support. Rather than get money from the state’s general fund, ETV now is paid state education money, collects fees from state agencies that ETV provides services and lease payments for use of its broadband spectrum.

If the budget approved by the state House becomes law, ETV will receive about $6 million for services that it provides other state agencies and education money, and about $2.9 from lease payments. The rest of the network’s budget is funded by private contributors or the federal government.

O’Bryon said personnel and program cuts will result from the loss of $588,000 in grant support from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, a federally created non-profit media company.

That grant was cut by $465,000 due to a drop in state support of ETV. Another $123,000 in cuts is expected from the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as the “sequester.”

ETV took a $341,000 hit last year when a company that leased broadband from the agency defaulted on its payments. As a result, ETV closed its Beaufort production facility.

The S.C. House approved a provision in the budget that it recently adopted for next year that would allow ETV to draw from emergency money in the event it takes a similar hit due to unpaid payments.

Haley recommended no changes to ETV’s budget in her executive budget this year.

“ETV should be run like a business. The old model of coming to the General Assembly and simply begging for taxpayer dollars needed to change, and it has,” said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey. “The ETV board and agency leadership have moved to a fee-for-service approach to cover operations, and they are focusing on the functions that provide value and revenue.”

O’Bryon said working more closely with state agencies – including the Criminal Justice Academy, which uses the ETV for training – has made the network “more entrepreneurial.”

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Reach Self at (803)771-8658.

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