LAUSD’s Television Station Seeks to Become Self-Sustaining

Along with causing the loss of thousands of valued employees and many critical programs at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the ongoing crisis in public education funding has imperiled the existence of the LAUSD’s television station. But the station, KLCS, is fighting back with a plan to become financially self-sustaining within three years.

Among the more difficult decisions I made in putting together the District’s budget for 2012-13 was cutting annual funding for KLCS in half from $2.8 million to $1.4 million. Since 2004-05, the allocation to KLCS has been reduced by more than $4 million. The latest cut has led to a reduction in staff from
25 to 13.

Fewer employees puts greater pressure on KLCS, which is marking its 40th year anniversary, to continue providing the kind of service that its viewers across Southern California have come to expect. While many people are aware that the station broadcasts meetings of the LAUSD Board of Education, it also offers on its four channels original programs such as “Families Matter,” “Reform the L.A. Way,” and “Teacher’s Hour”; extensive children’s programming, language instruction; meetings of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; and popular PBS programs in the evening, including “Nova,” “History Detectives,” and “Downton Abbey.”

The station has committed to me that it will do all that it can this year to sustain service at or near current levels. But under its current financial structure the station would likely be unable to survive another major blow to the operating budget. Should that happen, it’s quite possible the station’s license would eventually be purchased by an outside interest that changes the existing format and programming.

I believe the permanent loss of the station would be a major blow to the parents, teachers, students, board members, and administrators of the LAUSD. This is why I’m strongly supportive of recent efforts at KLCS to establish financial independence from the District.

Part of the plan has been in place since spring. For the first time in its history, KLCS launched a “soft pledge” a non-intrusive appeal for funds, usually scheduled during breaks in programming – to raise money from viewers. To date, that effort has netted more than $50,000.

From November 19 through November 30, KLCS also will launch for the first time an extensive fundraising drive that any public television viewer or public radio listener will be familiar. In this case, the goal is to raise between $50,000 and $250,000 by the end of the calendar year.

The station has also increased its outreach to the business community, with the intent of collecting between $150,000 and $200,000 in contributions by December 31, 2012.

Finally, the leadership of KLCS and the LAUSD’s Department of Communications are seeking potential partnerships with channels interested in broadcasting on one of the four stations operated by KLCS. With a coverage area that ranges as far north as Santa Barbara and as far south as San Diego, such a partnership might well be viewed very favorably by channels seeking to break into the local market.

Of all the programs and departments profoundly affected by the budget crisis, KLCS has the advantage of being able to sell its product to the community. The dedicated effort to become financially independent is a natural, and I believe effective way for the station to harness its assets.