KET lays off 13 employees

PBS network cites decline in funding

ssloan@herald-leader.comSeptember 11, 2010 

Kentucky Educational Television has laid off 13 employees after its governing board approved the action at a meeting Thursday night.

Tim Bischoff, spokesman for the Lexington-based PBS member network, declined to identify the employees.

"We made operational decisions to focus on core educational services in the classroom and our local programming," he said. "We know that's the bedrock of KET's mission and that's where our resources should be focused."

He called the cuts "difficult," adding "we live in tough times, which call for tough decisions."

The employees are not eligible for severance, he said.

KET's executive director, Shae Hopkins, was not available for comment.

With this week's cuts, KET's number of full-time employees is now 152, down from 223 during the 2008 fiscal year.

That decrease includes employees who took an early retirement incentive offered to state employees, attrition and layoffs. Overall, the organization has seen 78 employees depart since January 2008 and hired only seven during that time, Bischoff said.

"That's clearly left some voids in very critical positions," he said.

Among the employees let go was Bob Pickering, a studio manager responsible for scenery and lighting.

Pickering told the Herald-Leader that none of the employees laid off appeared on air. He said the cuts included executive assistants and people in engineering and information technology.

"The atmosphere has been difficult for a while," Pickering said.

When a lighting designer retired, Pickering said, he took over his responsibilities.

"I don't know who's going to take on my responsibilities and those since I'm no longer there," he said.

The budget cuts have shown, too, he said, in KET's programming.

"We seem to be putting less concern into production values," he said. "I'm surprised there hasn't been more uproar from viewers.

"I think the quality of our programming is suffering. It's bound to suffer."

Bischoff said the cuts were necessary because of declining funding. In total, the station's operating revenue has declined to a projected $23 million for the 2011 fiscal year from $27.8 million in the 2008 fiscal year. In that same time, state general funds to KET have fallen from $15 million to $12 million.

KET has also seen a 7 percent, or $180,000, drop in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the 2011 fiscal year. KET has also experienced $2.37 million in cuts to other one-time state funding since January 2008, he said.

In fact, Bischoff said, the state's general fund appropriations to KET are below where they were in 1991, when the agency received $13.5 million, "yet KET is offering more services than ever," he said.

One of KET's former executive directors, Virginia Fox, said KET's cuts are a mirror of the national economy.

"I've lived a long time, and this is the toughest economic time for non-profits and government that I've ever seen," said Fox, who added she was "blessed" to never have to make such cuts when she led the station, from 1991 to 2002.

"I just feel like KET is so important," she said, "and I'm confident (they) are making the best of a very tough situation."

Reach Scott Sloan at (859) 231-1447 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1447.

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