May 15, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Districts consider advertising in school buses to bring in revenue

Corbett administration urging districts to be creative, flexible
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — As costs grow and tax increases become less palatable, Pennsylvania school districts could be targeting young consumers with ads in school buses to make money.

The cash generated does not amount to a windfall, but every little bit can help at a time when state and local funding is decreasing. Upper Moreland School District, for example, expects to generate about $25,000 annually from ads in its fleet of 50 school buses and vans.
State law prohibits districts from selling ad space on the exterior of school buses, as seen on mass transit buses and commuter trains.
The Upper Moreland School Board approved the idea, and The Factory Advertising, a small firm in Lehigh County, will sell the ad space and make the signs. The district will keep 75 percent of the ad revenue, and Braun said the program should be ready to roll when the school bell rings in September.
A similar agreement with the same company was struck at Parkland School District, where 46 buses will have advertising as a trial run that could generate about $150,000.
At Parkland, a group of school administrators, teachers and parents will review each proposed advertisement to determine if it meets guidelines written by the school board. Bus advertising must focus on health, safety, wellness, recreation and educational opportunities, according to a statement from the district.
At Upper Moreland, the district superintendent will have the final say on ads.
Ads in buses could be a direct reaction to a change in state education funding policy. In the past, the state distributed to the districts a specific subsidy that covered busing. This year, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed rolling that line item — along with the basic education subsidy and payments for retired teachers — into a single budget line, to be called the Student Achievement Block Grant.
The block grants, Corbett explained in his February budget address, would allow districts to spend that money as they see fit. If districts can generate enough revenue from advertising to pay for busing, they can free up some of those state dollars for other purposes.
But Braun said the district still stands to lose under Corbett’s proposal. Under the proposed state budget, the district would receive about $31,000 less than last year for transportation purposes, he said.
Either way, new revenue will be helpful to the districts’ bottom lines.
Such ads do not require oversight or approval from the state, said Jan McKnight, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
The Pennsylvania State Police conduct those inspections annually, and any advertising cannot block emergency exits or fire extinguishers, she said.
Colorado was the first to allow districts to sell ad space on buses in 1993; the practice is legal Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Even if it was legal to advertise on the outside of buses here, Braun said he would not pursue it.
Selina Pittenger, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, which represents school bus companies and encourages safety in school transportation, said the organization does not oppose interior advertising, but opposes exterior advertising.
“We like that school buses are big, yellow and easily recognizable,” she said.
School boards in Bethlehem School District in Northampton County and Stroudsburg School District in Monroe County also have recently considered allowing advertising inside buses, according to local media reports.
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