Funding cuts may pull plug on school broadcasting

On the surface, nothing has changed at the studios of WRGF-FM and GCTV since city officials decided in August to drastically slash funds for Greenfield-Central High School's broadcasting program.

Radio shows still air, featuring the personalities of local high school students. Television programs are still recorded to highlight upcoming community events.

But there is an undertone of uncertainty. The future of the programs remains in a state of limbo for the 2013-14 school year and beyond as school administrators try to save the broadcasting program.

Nearly 100 percent of the funding for G-C's radio and television programs will be cut by the end of this year, and students constantly ask questions about the program's future. The two teachers in charge of the program aren't even sure if they'll have jobs next school year.

"Kids ask me a lot, and I don't know what to tell them," teacher William McKenna told the Daily Reporter. "I think there will be a program here of some sort, I hope."

McKenna teaches the television aspect of the program. With shows recorded throughout the day ranging from school announcements to interviews with elected and not-for-profit officials, McKenna said he was surprised that the city council would make a decision to cut funding.

"My biggest concern is, what's going to happen to the kids," said McKenna. "It's hard for me to comprehend because (the city council and mayor) didn't ask me."

The city council's decision to no longer send money to the school was made at a budget workshop in August. Mayor Dick Pasco says while the broadcasting program is a "great service," it wasn't a good deal for the city. He'd rather funds go toward the city's own technology needs.

At issue are franchise fees, which is money cable subscribers pay every month with their cable bill. The fees go to city government, and for years the city had been sending most of the money to the school. But now, city officials want to keep the funds to pay for other technology needs at city hall.

Greenfield receives more than $150,000 a year from cable franchise fees. The city pays the school roughly $100,000 every year to record and air meetings from city hall. Cameras are installed in the council chambers, and the school can also use the money for the salaries of two teachers and its own broadcasting programs.

WRGF-FM (89.7) is a 24-hour radio station that can be picked up throughout the county and beyond. GCTV can be seen on Channel 19 for Comcast subscribers and Channel 160 for NineStar Connect subscribers. In addition to government meetings, community shows like the long-running "Philanthropy Matters," and sporting events are also broadcast on TV.

The funding cut was made without city council members approaching the teachers or students, McKenna and teacher Tim Renshaw said. McKenna wishes the students would have been able to voice their concerns and show city officials what their program is all about before the decision was made.

Renshaw, the facility manager for both WRGF and GCTV, agrees.

"I think decisions were made without everyone having all of the information lined up right," he said.

While the city notified G-C administration in August, Renshaw said he was shocked to hear of the cut for the first time in October. And though Renshaw touted the program to new freshmen in the first two months of the school year, now he must tell them he's not sure it will be available to them next year.

"It provides a service that isn't available elsewhere," Renshaw said, calling the program "a community golden egg."

Amid all of the uncertainty, Principal Steve Bryant and Superintendent Linda Gellert are hopeful something can be salvaged for the 2013-14 school year.

Pasco said in October he hopes some kind of agreement can be worked out where the school can still air city meetings. But Gellert says with the vast majority of funding for the broadcasting program coming from franchise fees, it's hard to know what the next steps are.

"We can probably make the program leaner," said Gellert. "We're committed to the programs, plural, TV and radio. But we'll be looking at what we can do, either reassigning or redirecting roles."

Gellert said she recently met with Pasco to talk about the funding cut. The contract between the city and school has a 180-day termination timetable, so while the city council has cut funds by Dec. 31, Gellert believes funding should continue through mid-February.

"I have not heard back from the mayor on that point," she said.

Gellert also points out that the contract was between the city's board of works and the school board, so she questions whether the city council can even make such a move.

But Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese said the council holds the purse strings.

"The council did not fund it, so the funds that they receive for 2013, zip. I can't write a check," Breese said.

Pasco could not be reached for comment.

Gellert said there's a possibility of community or business partnerships to keep the school's broadcasting programs alive.

"We are always receptive to partnering, but at this point, we have nothing firm on that," said Gellert. "I think we're still in the discovery mode on what the possibilities are for funding the program. We want to make sure that we're lean and efficient."

Gellert, who said the current school board is supportive of the broadcasting programs, will likely bring a proposal to the G-C board in 2013. But she doesn't know what kind of changes will be proposed yet.

Bryant said he can't imagine the school not having the broadcasting program. Students could be sent to Warren Township's Walker Career Center to learn broadcasting, but the community would lose out on local programs.

"It doesn't have local flavor," he said. "The kids are using the skills, but it's not using the communications or public relations tool for the school and the community."

Several students also can't imagine G-CHS without its TV and radio program.

Seniors Caleb Jeffries and Jacob Borgmann regularly do a radio show together to talk about sports, movies and more.

Caleb plans to major in business but minor in communications, something he gained a passion for over the past few years.

"It's the exposure we get, the exposure to the sound board the first time, or hearing yourself on the radio for the first time," he said.

Jacob became interested in possibly working in television when he was 12 and was excited to take classes once he reached high school.

"For kids like me who want to go into radio and television, it will be a big bummer. because that's the place for them to gain experience," Jacob said.

Both were disappointed city officials seemed to make the decision without getting a firsthand experience of the programs.

Nicole Kinder, a 2006 G-C graduate and now an instructional assistant at the school, said she can still remember the public officials she interviewed years ago because the program made an impact on her life.

"It really broke my heart, because I thought this was one of the unique things Greenfield had to offer its youth," Kinder said.

While McKenna and Renshaw said their primary concern is for the students, they've also grown to love the job. Both have backgrounds in broadcasting, but they have gained a passion for teaching.

"It's like being on the Mayflower because every day, it's rough seas," said McKenna, describing a flow of both new and seasoned students with unique personalities. "When you get them fired up in the same direction and they're all going full-steam ahead, that's great."

But the decision to slash funds was nearly unanimous.

"When you're looking at a budget shortfall, you have to look at what is not going to hurt the most, I reckon," said Councilman Gary McDaniel. "But if we can come up with any alternative, I would most definitely be willing to look at it."

Councilman Jason Horning was the lone member who voted against the budget cut.

"I really hope something can be done. I don't think it's right for us to just cut that contract like that," Horning said. "I think it's a good program. It definitely helps us with our open government. People can watch us from home."

Horning said the decision to slash funds was made hastily.

"I thought it was a fast decision, honestly, and that's another reason I voted 'no' on it was because all the things that come up there was no discussion from anybody on it," Horning said. "I'm sure all government entities are tight; I'm sure the school understands that. I believe there's some common ground there that can be met where both the city and the school can benefit and both can be happy rather than just an all- or-nothing kind of thing."

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