Education

Board of Regents dropping Iowa Public Radio funding

'Its loss will present a financial challenge'

Iowa Public Radio
Iowa Public Radio
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After creating Iowa Public Radio in 2004, Iowa’s Board of Regents — facing its own unprecedented financial hurt from COVID-19 — is cutting its operating support, amounting to 10 percent of IPR’s budget.

In a message to supporters this week, IPR Executive Director Myrna Johnson broke the news the board will “eliminate operating support for Iowa Public Radio,” leaving her entity with a nearly $875,000 hole.

“IPR appreciates the incredible financial strain that Iowa’s state universities are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is working quickly and strategically to plan for the loss of $875,000 in funding,” she said.

“At 10 percent of our budget, university funding has been critical support that has helped IPR serve citizens in every corner of our state, and its loss will present a financial challenge for us as we plan for the upcoming fiscal year.”

Although the regents established IPR to oversee public radio operations licensed to Iowa’s public universities, the public radio enterprise in 2011 approved a strategic plan and funding schedule that aimed to step down regent support annually in hopes of achieving financial independence by 2017.

But when what was labeled as a “disruptive” change in IPR leadership hampered the operation’s fundraising efforts, the board agreed to continue funding the operation — even giving it a boost in 2014.

More recently, IPR had absorbed a $70,860 cut in university support from the 2019 budget year to 2020 — with its state appropriation remaining flat, at $350,648. The regents, on behalf of IPR, in September asked lawmakers to up support of IPR by $40,920 for fiscal 2021, thereby restoring it to 2017 levels.

“The additional funding is needed for higher programming fees, utilities, facility costs and other operating expenses,” according to the board’s IPR appropriations request.

IPR’s 26 stations serve 220,000 listeners a week, according to the board, which boasts its delivery of news, classical and Studio One programming, and 24-hour coverage.

In Johnson’s letter to members this week, she praised their generosity and notes of support since the onset of the pandemic and the uncertainty it brings.

“Reading these reaffirm, not only mine, but I believe all of our staff’s commitment to our mission to serve you,” she said.

As IPR faces its own coronavirus-related repercussions and financial strains, Johnson noted the opportunity for creative solutions.

For example, she said, the regents have indicated they’d “be willing to assist in a transfer or sale of the university licenses to IPR as we look ahead beyond this pandemic.”

“Given the complexity of IPR’s structure, this opportunity will take some time to evaluate further, but with the support of the IPR board, we will do our due diligence to explore our options,” she wrote.

She vowed to be “as transparent as possible with the financial situation we are navigating.”

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“We are facing significant challenges but these can also lead to unforeseen opportunities ahead for IPR,” she wrote. “Providing Iowans with an incredible public radio network will always be front and center in our decision-making and as we plot our future.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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