June 30th, 2005

School District to Vote on Giving Naming Rights to Highest Bidder

By Christine MacDonald
Lansing State Journal

Welcome to Comerica Elementary or the Rock Financial prom.

That could be the reality in the Plymouth-Canton school district, where administrators say their budget is so tight they may consider selling naming rights to their new elementary, existing schools, athletic field or even events.

A growing number of districts nationwide and in Michigan, including Plymouth, Rochester and Walled Lake, have or are setting up policies on how to handle corporate gifts that are attached to a name. So far, it has shown up in small ways: a pair of school playgrounds in Rochester named after competing homebuilders or an outdoor classroom in Walled Lake named for Lowe’s.

But the issue could get bigger in the Plymouth-Canton district, where naming rights have been discussed on and off for several years. A proposed policy and a new school in Canton may give a company the chance to cement its name in the community and bring new funds to the district.

It has some questioning whether commercialism has gone too far.

"It’s everywhere; it’s on everything," said David Wayne, a Canton father of two elementary-age kids who will go to the yet-to-be-named school. "It’s about how far we want to take it."

Universities and hospitals are experienced in selling naming rights to corporations or individual donors. Communities have gotten into the game in the last several years, with ball fields and even senior centers selling naming rights to the highest bidder. But the public schools have been slow to join, in part because of the argument that kids at publicly funded schools shouldn’t be barraged at school by advertising.

But now school districts - which have seen less funding over the last several years - are looking to get creative in order to pay for the programs students and parents expect. One district staffer recently asked if he could sell ad space on school buses. That’s against the law in Michigan.

Selling a school name is allowed, but it will likely kick up a storm of controversy. Communities often have a tough enough time deciding on a name. Plymouth-Canton officials said they would likely keep the original name of a school but hyphenate the corporate name if a donor came forward.

"The community has an emotional attachment to its buildings and the names of its buildings," said Tom Sklut, Plymouth-Canton’s chief development officer. "We want to be sensitive to that."

The school board is expected to vote Tuesday on a policy that would allow it to consider commercial naming opportunities for buildings and programs. The district likely won’t launch an aggressive campaign to sell naming rights, but "it becomes part of the menu of opportunities for potential donors," Sklut said.

And they would stay away from obvious bad associations, such as the Budweiser gym or Chee-tos Elementary.


  1. Posted by erin on July 8th, 2005

    it’s sad our schools are so underfunded they are considering these measures.

  2. Posted by Ken M. McNatt on July 16th, 2005

    Should this not send a wake up call to Washington or our state capitals that it is time to wake up and give more funding to education?  I would hate to have to walk into a school called (for example) Arby’s John F. Kennedy High School presented by Mountain Dew.  (Reminds me of college bowl games).  Giving naming rights for a school to the highest corporate bidder is just a sad commentary about how far a corporation will go to get their name out there.  Nothing is off limits anymore.

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