Change in funding won't take anything from students, says ORCTV

By Georgia Sparling | Mar 07, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat ORCTV rents studio space in Old Rochester Regional High School.

Mattapoisett — Old Rochester Community Television may have decided to end a yearly grant to the high school, but Executive Director Robert Chiarito said students will still have plenty of access to the studio and video equipment.

“We really are not trying to take anything away,” Chiarito said. “We’re trying to adapt.”

ORCTV receives its funding from Verizon and Comcast franchise fees through an agreement with Mattapoisett, Marion and Rochester. The companies pay a sort of rent to the towns in exchange for allowing installation of their cables.

For about 11 years, ORCTV gave the high school a grant, and ORR used the funds to pay for educators in the video program.

ORR and ORCTV have been linked almost since the latter was founded in 2005. ORCTV set up its first studio in the high school's basement. Several months later, however, a mold issue forced a move to Marion.

According to former president Kenneth Souza, the grant was a “good-faith gesture” at the time. In a letter to the current ORCTV Board President Jay Pateakos, Souza explained, “the board felt the need to compensate the high school and still encourage its participating in the education component of PEG [public, educational, governmental] programming.”

At a recent ORR School Committee meeting, Superintendent Doug White said he was notified that the grant would not continue after last year’s budget was finalized, but he worked out an arrangement to get one final year of funding – $54,000 compared to the $77,000 the school received previously.

But Chiarito and Souza, who was a founding member of ORCTV, both say the grant was never meant to be long term and that it was originally for one teacher.

“It was never meant to continue ad infinitum,” said Chiarito. He added that the funds were meant to be seed money to get the video program going.

Wrote Souza, “Somewhere along the line, subsequent ORCTV boards took this line item for granted, as did the high school. But that was never our intent, nor was it the expressed purpose of the franchise fees…”

Souza and Chiarito agree that ORCTV’s purpose is to maintain and provide programming for the public, education and government channels. And while not obliged to provide an educational component, that is something ORCTV wants to bolster, though it no longer plans to fund positions at the high school.

This semester, Chiarito and Assistant Director Gary Lawrence, welcomed three students into a new work-study program where they are teaching video production skills. The students, all seniors, get paid minimum wage and are working on writing, filming and editing their own creative projects. They are also starting a new weekly show about life in the school and filming major events at ORR.

Lawrence’s job has been boosted to include the new education focus. In addition to the work-study students, there is a new after school audio visual club for students interested in learning video production.

Chiarito said they are also going to work with students at all of the elementary schools and the junior high. Currently, ORR District Video Coordinator Deb Stinson, whose position was funded through the grant, has a program at Sippican School and the junior high as well.

ORCTV also plans to start a new program at Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School and already has some programming from Upper Cape Vocational.

Souza believes the funds should extend beyond ORR anyway.

Said Souza, “To me, it is grossly unfair that just one school…is supported with PEG funds.”

Chiarito echoed that comment.

“What should be happening is the entire district should be involved,” he said.

Chiarito believes ORCTV’s new educational emphasis is the best way for the organization to teach tri-town students up-to-date video skills.

“Change is difficult to deal with, but technology in this field changes so often, you need to keep up. There’s no way to fund that through the school,” he said.

Tri-town Selectmen are expected to meet and speak on the issue soon, but no date has been set yet.

Read about the ORR School Committee's discussion on ORCTV and funding here.

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