KU to cut funding to Audio-Reader program; all university funds to be eliminated by 2022

photo by: Nick Krug

In this file photo from 2009, Lawrence resident and Audio-Reader volunteer Kris Shields delivers the news for Kansas Audio-Reader.

The University of Kansas plans to cut funding to the Audio-Reader program, but the service will continue reading daily newspapers, magazines and best-sellers to visually impaired people.

Within three years, KU will stop providing roughly $330,000 in annual support for the program, said Dan Skinner, director of Audio-Reader and Kansas Public Radio.

Funding won’t immediately be affected, as the 2019 fiscal year began in July. However, funding from the university will be cut by 50 percent both in 2020 and 2021. By 2022, all KU funding will cease.

In May, KU announced it would implement $20 million in budget cuts on the Lawrence campus to combat rising expenses and falling state revenues. Skinner said he understood cuts were necessary.

“Unfortunately, one of the results is Audio-Reader will lose its funding three years from now,” Skinner said.

Although the funding will end, the university will continue to provide in-kind support including the 1920’s English Tudor-style house where the Audio-Reader Center is located at 1120 W. 11th St. The university will also continue maintenance of the building, Skinner said.

The decision for the cut came “as budget managers have been seeking ways to absorb this adjustment in a way that prioritizes the university’s core functions,” said Joe Monaco, KU’s director of communications for the Office of Public Affairs.

Budget decisions are left to individual budget managers. Because Audio-Reader falls within the Office of Public Affairs, Vice Chancellor Reggie Robinson made the determination to cut the Audio-Reader funding, Monaco said.

Audio-Reader, which has been broadcasting from KU for the past 47 years, relies on more than 400 volunteers locally and in satellite locations. Volunteers read a variety of newspapers, books and publications over the air and on the internet. They also offer a service where people can access automated newspaper readings via telephone. Audio-Reader provides the service for free in areas of Kansas and western Missouri for blind and visually impaired individuals.

With the news of the cuts, Skinner said Audio-Reader would have to shift its support stream from the university to the community.

“So, we will be looking to individuals and foundations as sources,” Skinner said.

Along with the funding from the university, the organization raises more than $260,000 annually through a variety of activities, including the annual “For Your Ears Only” sale, which offers audio equipment, records, CDs and DVDs. This year’s sale is scheduled for Sept. 14 and 15 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

“That is one of our signature events,” Skinner said. “We also have a golf tournament and receive individual donations. We get support from Lions Clubs around the area and from other grants.”

While this funding decrease poses challenges for Audio-Reader, Monaco said KU was “optimistic that program managers and supporters will embrace this opportunity to reimagine the program and find new ways to sustain it going forward.”


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