ETV Threatens Layoffs, Despite Having Millions in the Bank

April 1, 2013

Investigative Reports

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ETV SCS.C. Educational Television President and CEO Linda O’Bryon didn’t mince words when she appeared recently before a Senate budget panel.

“It’s significant. We will see layoffs. We will see more budget cuts,” O’Bryon told the panel, according to a March 24 story in The State newspaper.

O’Bryon cited an unspecified number of layoffs and program cuts in announcing the loss of $588,000 in federal money.

But ETV doesn’t appear to be hurting financially, The Nervefound in a review of state budget and accounting records.

Office of State Budget (OSB) records show that the agency carried over slightly more than $4 million in excess “other” funds and $412,876 in leftover federal funds into this fiscal year, which started July 1, from fiscal 2012.

More than $4.9 million and $5.6 million in excess other funds were carried over into fiscal 2012 and 2011, respectively, according to OSB records.

As of Wednesday, ETV had a total of $9.9 million in cash in its two main other-fund accounts, according to records provided to The Nerve by the S.C. Comptroller General’s Office. That amount represents slightly more than half of the agency’s total $18.87 million total ratified budget through three-quarters of this fiscal year.

Assuming the agency spends an equal percentage of its total ratified budget every month, it would be on pace to have about a $5 million surplus when the fiscal year ends in three months.

That projected surplus amount would be more than eight times the $588,000 in lost federal funding cited by O’Bryon to the Senate budget panel. The amount of federal funding in question represents 3.1 percent of the total ratified budget for this fiscal year.

The Nerve last week sent a written message to O’Bryon asking her to further explain her statements to the Senate budget panel about the layoffs, given OSB records showing that the agency started this fiscal year and last with an other-fund surplus equaling more than 20 percent of its total ratified budget.

O’Bryon, whose annual salary is $125,190, didn’t respond. But in an emailed response last week, her spokesman, Glenn Rawls, disputed The Nerve’s findings.

“Those are funds not carried over,” Rawls said. “That is the appropriation approved by the Legislature in “other funds” which allows us to spend up to but not over that level. It does not reflect cash on hand or held in reserve.”

But Rawls didn’t respond to follow-up questions after The Nerve pointed out that the carry-over amounts listed in OSB records were labeled as “actual” under a heading titled, “Revenue Retained and Expended in Budget Operations.” He also didn’t provide current amounts of agency reserves or cash on hand when asked.

Rawls in his emailed response last week said ETV’s “senior management team is reviewing all options, which may include staff reductions,” adding that the “exact amount of the shortfall will not be known until sometime in April.”

He did not respond when asked by The Nerve in a follow-up written message whether O’Bryon was backing off her earlier public statements about the definiteness of the layoffs, based on his comment toThe Nerve that the agency’s options “may include staff reductions.”

ETV on its website describes itself as the “state’s public educational television network with 11 television and eight radio transmitters, and a multi-media educational system in more than 2,500 schools, colleges, businesses and government agencies.” Among other things, it provides streaming video of House and Senate floor action when the Legislature is in session.

In her remarks last month to the Senate budget panel, O’Bryon said her agency will lose $588,000 in grant support from the federally created, nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), according to The State newspaper’s article. Of that amount, $465,000 was cut because of the loss of state support of the agency; $123,000 more is expected to be lost through “sequestration,” or recently mandated across-the-board federal budget cuts, she said.

The vast majority of ETV’s budget derives from “other” funds, which include such things as private contributions, sales of services to other state agencies, rent of state-owned property (leases of its broadband spectrum) and CPB funds (despite the CPB’s federal ties), according to an Office of State Budget document known as the “detail base budget.”  The budget document is prepared based on data submitted by the agency.

Last fiscal year, for example, ETV took in $6.9 million from sales of services, $3.5 million in contributions, $2.9 million in rent from state-owned property, and $2.9 million in CPB funds, according to the detail base budget. Collectively, the $16.2 million represented more than 94 percent of the total $17.2 million in other funds collected in fiscal 2012.

ETV started fiscal 2012 with a $4.9 million balance in other funds, OSB records show. Combined with the $17.2 million in other-fund receipts, the agency had $22.1 million at its disposal during the fiscal year, spending $18.1 million and carrying over the remaining $4 million into this fiscal year, according to the detail base budget.

Upon taking office in 2011, Gov. Nikki Haley pushed to strip ETV of its general-fund appropriations, contending that the agency could rely on private contributions and other funding sources. For this fiscal year, ETV received no direct general-fund appropriations, and it wasn’t appropriated any general funds under the House’s recently passed version of the fiscal 2014 state budget.

ETV’s total ratified budget decreased by $855,684 from fiscal 2012 to this fiscal year, OSB records show. The agency has seen its overall work force shrink in recent years, from 223 full- and part-time permanent employees in 2008 to 134 last year, according to S.C. Budget and Control Board records, though specifics on the breakdown of full-time and part-time workers were not available by publication of this story.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.