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Producer Staff Eliminated in KPBS Layoffs

Faced with a deficit in projected revenues and rising costs, KPBS-TV (Channel 15), San Diego’s public broadcasting station, announced Thursday that it will lay off its entire staff of seven senior producers as part of a major restructuring of station personnel.

The producer positions will be consolidated into five newly created positions. The laid-off producers will be allowed to reapply for the new positions.

In addition to the producers, through attrition and cutbacks KPBS will eliminate several clerical positions and a graphic artist job. KPBS-FM (89.5) will lose a producer position and its director of development.

“We’ve known that there is a budget crunch, but this was a real surprise,” said senior producer Paul Espinosa, one of the seven producers given 30-day notice.

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Along with Espinosa, a 10-year veteran of the station who has a national reputation for producing shows on Latino issues, including last year’s “Uneasy Neighbors” and the recent “The New Tijuana,” the list of laid-off producers includes senior producer Anasa Briggs, executive producer Paul Marshall, senior producer Wayne Smith, producer-director Jim Kinser and senior producer Sarah Luft, who won a gold medal award for “Simply Maria” at the recent public broadcasting national convention.

“We’re all shocked and hurt,” said executive producer Marshall, who has been with the station 24 years. “We feel (the producers) have brought a lot of accolades and attention to the station.”

Marshall said he plans to apply for one of the new executive producer posts. Producers have been told that, if they are rehired, it will be at their current salary, he said.

It is still uncertain how the restructuring will affect regular programs such as “Seniors Speak Out,” which is produced by Smith, and Briggs’ talk show, said KPBS General Manager Paul Steen.

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“The state of the station is generally healthy,” Steen said. “We’ve done some reorganization and tightening up. We’re trying to ensure that we stay strong financially. We feel badly that we had to let some people go, but that’s inevitable.

“We’re hoping this will not diminish local programming. We expect to continue to do programming around the community and minorities, but we will have fewer people to do that.”

KPBS ended the 1989 fiscal year $547,956 in the hole, which “severly depleted” the station’s cash reserve, station spokeswoman Pat Finn said. Although total revenues grew by 10% in the fiscal year that ended this month, station officials estimate a shortfall of $39,478.

The number of members rose to more than 70,000 in the last year, but the station didn’t reach its membership goal for the year, Steen said. Membership fees account for 45.4% of the station’s revenue. Other fund-raising activities may have taken away from the membership drive, he said.

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“We are trying to project a little more conservatively” for the future, Steen said. “It’s really important for us to maintain a balanced budget.”

More than 30% of the station’s income comes from state and federal sources, which may dramatically decrease in the year ahead, Finn said. At the same time, PBS is charging stations more for carrying national shows like the “MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour.”

“Management didn’t prepare for this,” said one station employee, who asked not be named. “They had all the info, but they didn’t do anything about it.”

In the last year, the station has eliminated expenditures on equipment, travel and training, Finn said.

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“The only way to get revenue in sync with expenditures is to reorganize,” she said.

Although station representatives said cutting producers was a logical step, because of the lack of facilities to handle their work, other employees question the station’s commitment to produce local programming in the wake of the cuts.

The layoffs “raise questions about what kind of programming they will be doing at the station,” said Espinosa, who was not sure if he would reapply for a job.

“Superficially, they will be asking fewer people to do jobs that many producers were doing. It’s unclear what they feel will be important.”

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Espinosa recently returned from the PBS national convention, where station representatives agreed that programming for minority groups should be a priority.

“The direction of the station seems to be at odds with the direction the system is headed in,” Espinosa said.

Earlier this month, KPBS eliminated the special events department, a total of three jobs, while adding three positions in the development department.

In an unrelated move, KPBS director of development Susan Dutton is leaving the station. She will move to Los Angeles at the end of July for personal reasons.

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