PBS Valley Public Television Station in Central Fresno. Credit: Valley PBS

What's at stake?

The audit – and ultimately the station’s response and corrective actions – may affect the station’s ability to receive future funding from the CPB.

Valley Public Broadcasting Station, locally known as Channel 18, may have to return more than $200,000 in federal grant money after an audit found the station overstated its revenue and failed to complete required financial and employment reports.

In the audit dated Jan. 26, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Office of the Inspector General said Valley PBS overstated the amount of financial support it received from non-federal sources, such as from memberships and donations, by $1,684,901. The CPB uses this figure to determine how much Community Services Grant money to give the station, which it said resulted in an overpayment of $214,340 for the two fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21.

In a letter filed in response to the audit, Valley PBS disagreed with how the audit classified its non-federal funding. CPB officials have until mid-June to decide whether to accept the Inspector General’s recommendation to seek repayment of the grants, which could lessen the amount the station receives from CPB in the future.

In a phone call Tuesday, Valley PBS CEO Jeff Aiello declined to comment. He pointed to a letter he wrote in response to the audit, in which he acknowledged the station endured “tough times” before he took charge in 2021.

“A high amount of leadership turnover, dwindling governing board representation, and, quite frankly, inexperienced staff in key positions all contributed to a Valley PBS that needed help and rebuilding,” Aiello wrote.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a publicly funded non-profit corporation created by Congress to oversee and award most of the federal funding for public broadcast stations such as Valley PBS. The audit – and ultimately the station’s response and corrective actions – may affect the station’s ability to receive future funding from the CPB.

Valley PBS reported revenue of $4.65 million for the fiscal year ending 2021, and $4.54 million the previous year, according to its Form 990 filed with the IRS.

The audit also found the station failed to complete other requirements to receive the grant money, such as reports for audited financial statements, employment statistics and hiring information as well as posting a publicly available diversity statement and following required practices for discrete accounting and harassment-prevention.

In the station’s response letter, it notes that changes made since Aiello’s arrival have improved its accounting practices. It said he also has recruited new members to its governing and community advisory boards, as well as reformed the station’s diversity committee.

Valley PBS first went on air in 1977 and is the only licensed public television station in the San Joaquin Valley. The station reaches 94% of households in the region that have a television. In addition to national PBS content and locally produced documentaries, the station broadcasts more than 70 hours of children’s programming weekly.

The station receives money from local school districts, and the audit found that much of that funding in the two fiscal years had been given to the districts by the federal government, meaning it should not have been included in the total of non-federal financial support. Two school districts also paid the TV station with CARES Act money, or federal pandemic relief funds.

While Valley PBS reports on its website that nearly half of its funding comes from about 10,000 members, the audit called that into question, saying the station didn’t correctly account for high-end thank you gifts it provides to members, resulting in an overstatement of $180,822 in non-federal financial support.

Brianna Vaccari is the accountability/watchdog reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom launched in 2021 by the James B. McClatchy Foundation.

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