Could school bus ads save school budgets?
SEATTLE (AP) – School districts have imposed all sorts of drastic cuts to save money during the down economy, canceling field trips and making parents pay for everything from tissues to sports transportation.
And some have now resorted to placing advertisements on school buses.
School districts say it’s practically free money, and advertisers love the captive audience that school buses provide.
That’s the problem, say opponents: Children are being forced to travel to school on moving media kiosks, and the tactic isn’t much different than dressing teachers in sponsor-emblazoned uniforms.
“Parents who are concerned about commercial messages will have no choice,” said Josh Golin, associate director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. “Parents won’t be given the option to send their kids on the ad-free bus.”
The concept is being tossed around in Ohio, New Jersey and Utah. About half a dozen states already allow bus advertising – including Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas.
The idea can be traced back about 15 years, but budget woes have led to a recent resurgence.
John Green, supervisor for school transportation at the California Department of Education, has a long list of reasons California has not sold ads on its school buses, despite the regular onslaught of creative parents and lawmakers who suggest the idea to him and other state officials.
It has proven to be lucrative for some districts.
Jefferson County Schools, the largest district in Colorado with more than 84,000 students in 150 schools covering more than 777 square miles, has a three-year contract with First Bank of Colorado that is worth about $500,000 over four years, said district spokeswoman Melissa Reeves.
That translates into about $7 a day per bus for the length of the contract, still a fraction of the district’s total $959 million budget but important at a time when every dollar counts.
In addition to having its logo on 100 of the district’s 350 school buses, First Bank also will be prominently displayed in every high school gym and during sporting events.
“It’s not as large a revenue generator as you might think,” said Mike Griffith, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States. Paying a consultant to sell the ads usually cuts the profits enough to discourage districts, he said.