ORR video classes at risk after ORCTV ends funding

By Georgia Sparling | Mar 02, 2017
Photo by: Georgia Sparling ORR District Video Coordinator Deb Stinson and student Ethan Mort present a case for the video program.

Mattapoisett — Video classes and programs at tri-town schools are in jeopardy, following the removal of funding from Old Rochester Community Television.

For many years, ORCTV, through a contract with Old Rochester Regional High School, provided a grant that paid for two part-time instructors. Last year, after ORR approved its budget, Superintendent Doug White said he was informed that ORCTV did not want to continue the contract that gave about $77,000 annually.

Due to the timing of ORCTV’s notice, the organization agreed to provide $54,000 toward the two positions for the 2016-17 school year.

“When it came at us last spring, it came out of nowhere,” White said. “I’ve been trying to work with them and trying to show them what we’re trying to offer our kids.”

ORCTV is funded through cable franchise fees. Towns charge cable companies “rent” to lay cable in their boundaries, and municipalities receive a percentage of the companies' operating revenue that goes toward public, education and government (or PEG) channels. For its part, ORCTV is tasked with providing content for the stations. Contracts with Verizon and Comcast also include funding for capital needs and equipment.

Mattapoisett maintains its own government content and receives a portion of the fees to do so. ORCTV is responsible for everything else and has granted funds to ORR for more than a decade.

“Although the money came into the ORR budget, there was work being done in the elementary schools as well,” said White. “At the same time there has been a change in their board, (and) how they perceive themselves as managing the educational portion of their channel.”

ORR has two classes on video journalism and video production each semester at the high school. This school year, there were 46 students in the class during the first semester and 36 during the second semester.

The video teachers also work with students in the junior high and at least one of the elementary schools.

According to ORR District Video Coordinator Deb Stinson, there is an active Cub Reporter program at Sippican School and a group of junior high students also work with her on videos.

“We’ve had eleven years of success in our program,” said Stinson.

She said last year there were 95 original programs created during 180 days of school.

“We only work about 110 days,” Stinson said. “That’s almost one show every day and that’s in addition to educating the students, training them, editing the product.”

Without the funding, ORR High School Principal Mike Devoll said the video classes have been removed from the course offerings for students.

A number of current and former video students have spoken out against the shift in funding, including a petition with more than 50 signatures.

Tim Gonsalves, from the class of 2013, has an internship at NBC Universal in Los Angeles and wrote, “I can draw a direct line from the video classes I took at ORR, and the skills I learned in them, to getting accepted into Boston University’s Film and TV program (one of the best in the country), and then from there to where I am now.”

He went on to write, “…without a video department…I truly believe ORR is putting their students at a real competitive disadvantage.”

Another former student, Joshua Bardwell, wrote that while he did not pursue a career in the field, the video journalism and introduction to TV courses taught him “universally applicable skills.”

“Being on camera in videos produced by my classmates and as an anchor for Bulldog TV was an enormous help to me in developing confidence in public speaking,” wrote Bardwell.

On Thursday student Ethan Mort addressed the ORR School Committee meeting.

“It’s definitely a fight worth fighting for,” he told the members. “We’d be one of the few schools in the region that would not have a video program of some sort.”

He said the video production class was an important one that taught him how to evaluate and analyze media, an important skill “with accusations coming everywhere about fake media.”

Some of the School Committee members were perplexed at the change in funding priorities for ORCTV, which rents space from ORR for its offices and studio.

Cary Humphrey said his daughter benefited from the video program, and said the change from ORCTV “smells very political to me.”

Other committee members said that grants can be unreliable, which is why more funding is needed from the towns.

“It goes to the problem of what we’re seeing in our budget,” said Chair Tina Rood. (Read more here.)

Business Administrator Patrick Spencer brought up another point – without a partnership with ORCTV, a video program at the school still wouldn’t have an outlet on television.

“We can still run a program, but it won’t be the same if they’re not part of the process,” he said.

Although, ORCTV does not plan to continue its funding to ORR, it is offering a work-study program for several students interested in video production. In a separate interview, Director Robert Chiarito said there are plans to boost the educational offerings by adding a new part-time educational TV coordinator. That could increase programming for Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School, he noted.

White said tri-town leadership do want to meet with ORCTV to discuss the funding issue. The meeting has not been scheduled yet.

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