Funding boost from universities helps Iowa Public Radio after difficult year

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Iowa’s Board of Regents voted to increase funding for Iowa Public Radio Thursday after hearing details of the pubcaster’s financial struggles in the wake of a CEO’s departure.

The seven regents unanimously agreed to boost IPR’s fiscal year 2015 funding by $236,000. The decision restores support from the state universities to its FY2013 level of $944,800, almost a quarter of IPR’s total revenues that year.

IPR, comprising six stations licensed to three public universities, has been adjusting to reduced subsidies from the schools, which have scaled back aid by 10 percent each year since 2011. IPR aims to be free of university funding in 2017.

But for the past year and a half, IPR has struggled to cultivate major gifts, which leaders hoped would make up for the decline in state funds. An interim director ran the network for much of last year after the February 2013 firing of CEO Mary Grace Herrington.

Herrington drew criticism from IPR staffers after dismissing news director Jonathan Ahl in May 2012. The Board of Regents reportedly let her go after reviewing a survey of employee morale. Herrington disputed her firing and won a $197,000 settlement from the university system in May 2013.

The network endured “a public dust-up that took a heavy toll,” IPR Board Chair Mary Kramer told regents. As a result, IPR had “no plan in place to raise money,” though income from donors and underwriting did increase, she said.

“The combination of the lawsuit settlement and severance payments has required us to start using reserves, a situation we don’t find to be sustainable,” Kramer said. Management drew $500,000 from reserves to cover costs in FY2014, according to IPR’s written request to regents for additional funds.

“The last year and a half has left us without fundraising leadership,” said Myrna Johnson, IPR’s executive director since January. “We do need a little time to get that up and running” and to review IPR’s strategic plan, Johnson said.

IPR plans to resume major-gift fundraising, update its strategic plan and return to the Board of Regents with a revised proposal for university support, it said in its request. The network will also “spend conservatively” in FY2015 and look for ways to cut costs.

One regent urged the network to pursue signal expansion in western Iowa, where the pubcaster now lacks coverage.

Iowa Public Radio formed in 2004 as a merger of stations operated by Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa. It now operates a network that covers much of the state with three programming formats.

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