Spokane Public Schools’ board voted unanimously Wednesday to begin negotiations with KSPS about the possibility of separating the public television station from the school district.
If KSPS’ board – the nonprofit Friends of KSPS – decides tonight it wants to do the same, it would be the beginning of the end of a 45-year partnership.
School officials and the leader of the nonprofit that raises funds for the station think the timing may be right to make the change.
“As we get more and more budget and funding challenges, it got to a point where we asked: Should we really be in the public television business? Our primary mission is K-12; we need to focus on that,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent.
Spokane Public Schools spends about $260,000 of its $313.6 million annual budget on the station, school officials said.
“The Friends, which is a great partner, raises the majority of funds for the station, and as ours has dwindled, they have had an interest in continuing the great station. The funding showed that that was viable,” Anderson said. “They are devoted to the station and the programming.”
The transition would take about a year.
The district licensed the station and began operations in 1967; public television stations associated with government were common in the late 1960s.
But that connection has almost vanished. Nationwide, there are 365 public television stations, and KSPS is one of only six still owned by a government entity. Five of those are school districts, according to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Financial struggles in school districts have forced the change, Anderson said. “We don’t see funding improving, the Friends are ready and having two organizations trying to raise money and run the station has always been a challenge,” Anderson said.
The district and the Friends hired Public Radio Capital to analyze whether the switch was viable. The consulting firm determined that by 2023, KSPS could have $400,000 more in positive cash flow.
Gary Stokes, executive director of Friends of KSPS, said the split would be a good opportunity for the school district and the nonprofit to do “what we each do best.”
The Friends of KSPS was formed in 1972 to help support the station financially. In the last 10 years, the Friends have contributed about $15 million to the school district for operation of the station while the district’s contribution has hovered around the $300,000 annual level.
“As the organization that’s been helping support the station for these many years, it would be good to be able to continue that mission, to continue the programming to our members and viewers throughout the region, and find new ways to serve the community and our viewers that have been supporting us for decades,” Stokes said.
The station would likely stay in a building on Ferris High School property for now. District officials don’t plan on selling it.
The Friends would have to apply to the Federal Communications Commission to license the station.
And Friends would likely have to buy some of the equipment, but Anderson hopes to work out a trade so the district can still use the station to occasionally communicate with constituents.
The 20 school district employees who now work for KSPS would no longer be public employees, but Stokes said he hopes to “keep things as business-as-usual as possible. That includes keeping the employees a part of our station.”