September 23rd, 2004

District is Considering Ads for School Buses

By Anne Ryman
Arizona Republic

The Scottsdale Unified School District could make $1.5 million over five years if the School Board decides to put ads on the outside of school buses, a district official said.

The Scottsdale School Board is expected to decide in late November whether to put ads on the sides of its 150 buses. The campaign could be the largest of its kind among public school buses in Arizona.

A school district committee has chosen a California-based firm, Media Advertising in Motion, to handle the ads. But the choice is contingent on School Board approval. The firm would receive 40 percent commission on sales.

"We will have control over the content of ads," said Dan Shearer, the Scottsdale district’s transportation director.

Arizona allows ads on school buses with some limitations. Ads hawking tobacco, alcohol, drugs or gambling are prohibited. Ads can appear only on bus sides and cannot interfere with safety features.

Ads on the outside of school buses are rare in the state, although they are common on city-owned buses.

The neighboring Paradise Valley Unified School District has used public-service ads on school buses for years. The School Board recently hired an outside firm at 40 percent commission to sell bus ads in hopes of getting more money. The district makes less than $50,000 a year off the ads, said Walter "Skip" Brown, an assistant superintendent. About 25 buses, one-eighth of the bus fleet, carry ads, he said. The district allows only public-service ads and prohibits ads for products.

School bus ads have been controversial in other parts of the United States.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services opposes ads on the outside of school buses because the group believes ads can distract other drivers.

Scottsdale district officials floated the idea at community meetings early this year, and parents seemed supportive as long as the district limits the types of ads.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, an Oregon-based group that opposes commercialism to children, said school bus ads are a bad idea, even if there are restrictions.

"Our children should not be for sale. Not their time, and not their minds," Ruskin said.

Scottsdale School Board member Christine Schild said she would prefer "non-product" ads such as public service announcements.

"I think our community would find that more palatable," she said.

Board member Joel Feldman wants district officials to consider handling ads in-house rather than paying an outside company. Paying a 40 percent commission "is a hefty slice," of the profits, he said.

Shearer said the offer from the California company was better than others the district received. Some wanted 75 percent commission, he said.

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