Current and previous elected officials representing the North Coast in the California legislature have sent a letter to the California State University chancellor denouncing a recent Humboldt State University decision to fire most of its staff at KHSU, which broadcasts in Del Norte.
The letter from State Sen. Mike McGuire, Assemblyman Jim Wood, former State Sen. Wesley Chesbro and former Assemblywoman Patty Berg to Chancellor Timothy P. White condemns "the surprise shut down of the community's radio station, KHSU, as a slap in the face to Humboldt State University students, employees and the community at large."
The letter comes about a week after the university announced organizational changes at the public radio station, including suspending a number of volunteer-run programs to evaluate how students can "return to a more substantial role at KHSU," according to an April 11 HSU press release. According to HSU administration, the changes were meant to address operational challenges at KHSU, prevent negative impact to the university's budget and "better align HSU's financial support with its mission and with opportunities for students."
Eliminating HSU's direct payroll support, including the station's general manager and chief engineer positions, saved the university more than $250,000 annually, according to the press release. The university stated it would pursue collaboration with other public radio stations and seek Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds.
In their letter to the chancellor, McGuire, Wood, Chesbro and Berg described a scene on Friday in which employees and volunteers were terminated without notice and with police on scene, stating "the way this went down was completely avoidable and a slap in the face to Humboldt County and the North Coast."
The current and former elected officials pointed out that North Coast residents have relied on the "dulcet voices" of veteran and first-time broadcasters and had rallied around the station multiple times to keep it going.
"Just last week KHSU concluded a successful community fundraising drive, where local businesses and residents put their priorities and names on the line to support the station and their award winning programming. The reckless manner and timing of HSU shutting down this amazing station could not have been worse and it's time for the long-term decision making by a short-term administration to stop."
The elected officials noted that the decisions made behind closed doors and "zero transparency" hurts the university's credibility and makes everyone's job harder, "especially the incoming president."
They requested the university not take further action with KHSU until a new administration has been installed and to cease any effort to abandon, sell, transfer or contract the public radio station out. The elected officials also called for the community to be involved in any future dialogue with the station.
"KHSU goes far beyond being a university asset and should not be evaluated and disposed of without community input."
In its press release, the university stated that HSU administrators had received a report from the CSU Office of Audit and Advisory Services that included a program review of the station an d"identified a number of issues with operations and administration." HSU President Lisa Rossbacher had requested the audit, according to the press release.
The university noted that KHSU is heavily subsidized by the HSU general fund and the station has been struggling with budget deficits that have continued to worsen. According to the press release, at the end of the 2017-18 year, HSU had to cover a budget deficit of almost $135,000 beyond its regular subsidy and this year's projected deficit will be larger.
The station's budget challenges largely reflect increases in payroll costs while community support has been flat or declining.
"The budget challenges at KHSU come as HSU has been working to address an overall structural deficit as well as funding declines related to an enrollment drop," the press release states. "The university has reduced its spending by $9 million over the last two years and is making nearly $1 million in additional reductions for the comin gyear."
Over the last year, the university has provided nearly half the cost of KHSU, according to the press release. Listener support provided 22 percent, corporate underwriting 17 percent and government grants 12 percent. HSU paid more than $265,000 in salaries, $250,000 for space and utilities and $80,000 receiving and processing contributions to the station.
The university concluded its announcement by stating that listeners will still be able to hear national programming and news on KHSU.