School districts look to bus ads for revenue

Sep 29 2011 - 8:43am

Could bus-side advertisements for brand-name sneaks spare little feet from having to trudge a couple of miles to school?

Will promos for banks and other local businesses spell tax relief for beleaguered homeowners?

New Jersey will soon begin to find out.

In the last legislative session, the state became the latest to approve advertising on school buses. Now, the state Board of Education is working on regulations for districts that choose to tap into this new revenue source.

The regulations are not expected to be adopted until at least February, according to state education spokesman Richard Vespucci.

According to the authorizing legislation, 50 percent of revenue from the ads must be used to offset fuel costs for student transportation. The other 50 percent can be used to support programs and services determined by local school boards.

New Jersey is the first Northeastern state to permit ads on school buses. Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas and Utah also permit the ads, according to the state education department.

Why not more states? Well, around the country, people have expressed concern over advertisements on school buses, including whether they present a traffic distraction. Others don't want advertising aimed at impressionable youth.

Still others find any mixing of education with commerce, well, distasteful.

Robert Beauchamp, president of Alpha Media, a Texas company that helps school districts put ads on buses, sought to allay those concerns.

"Advertising has been done in schools for decades," Beauchamp said. "School bus advertising is just a more lucrative tweak to what is already being offered."

A district with a fleet of 150 buses can make $500,000 over four years, he said, adding that several New Jersey districts had expressed interest in pursuing bus ads once the state sets its regulations.

Beauchamp said districts could refuse ads. They generally limit ad size and refuse ads for products such as alcohol, tobacco, things with sexual content, as well as political or religious messages, he said.

Pennsylvania does not yet allow ads on school buses, but in tough economic times, districts there also are looking at advertising to bring in revenue. That includes more naming rights and sponsorships, said David Davare, an official with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

"We started seeing more signs of it three, four years ago," Davare said. "We started seeing it in the poor districts. Now we're seeing it in the some of the more wealthy districts."

The Pennsbury School District in Bucks County recently entered into an agreement with School Media Inc., a Minneapolis company that helps districts raise revenue through alternative advertising.

Spokeswoman Ann Langtry said the district planned to allow ads for health, education, nutrition, and safety products and services on up to 20 percent of interior surfaces in schools, including lockers.

She said the initiative could bring in $400,000 a year.

The Centennial School District, also in Bucks, has an agreement with Modell's for the sports retailer to sell fan gear with the logos of William Tennant High School athletic teams. School board director Mark Miller said the district expected to take in $20,000 to $30,000 this year from the sales.

In South Jersey, districts aren't sure how much bus ads might bring them, but some are considering the option.

Marie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Mount Laurel School District, said her board would consider the ads as a way to help taxpayers.

Wouldn't she rather keep commercialism away from children?

"Unfortunately, those days are gone. I would probably personally prefer to not have ads on my child's baseball field as well," she said. "If it keeps the program going and it's not offensive, let's go for it."

(c)2011 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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