May 22nd, 2007

School Board Drops Proposal for Bus Radios

By Antoinette Konz
Louisville Courier-Journal

Planned Contract Drew Opposition From Parents

A proposal that would have put radios on all Jefferson County Public Schools buses this fall was shelved by the school board last night before it even came up for consideration.

Moments after the Board of Education meeting convened, Chairman Joe Hardesty announced that the board would not be voting on a contract with Massachusetts-based Bus Radio Inc. “now or in the foreseeable future.” He said, “The board received a lot of input from the community, and based on what we heard, we decided this was not a contract we wanted to consider.”

The contract would have allowed the national company to install and maintain radios on the buses and provide age-appropriate music, commercials and public-service announcements at no cost to the district.

The deal would have provided the district with up to $150,000 annually in shared advertising revenue, and the radios were to be equipped with Global Positioning System devices allowing a driver to alert authorities to the bus’s location in an emergency.

Several parents spoke against the plan at last night’s meeting, some bringing signs to show their opposition. Most decided to address the board even after the contract was tabled.

Paula Wolf, president of Jefferson County’s PTA, said if the radios had been installed, parents would not have had control over what their children were listening to.

“PTA opposes the exploitation of students through commercial operations that require students to view advertising or to study specific instructional programs as a condition of the school’s receiving a donation of money or loan of equipment,” Wolf said.

“My child is targeted enough without being bombarded on the way to and from school.”

Two child-advocacy groups—the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Obligation Inc.—also sent letters to the school board asking it to be cautious before agreeing to such a deal.

Under the proposed contract, each broadcast hour would have had about 44 minutes of music and news, eight minutes of advertising, six minutes of public-service announcements and two minutes of contests.

The company’s Web site on Sunday showed music for students ages 6-12 included artists such as Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Diddy; for students ages 13-17, it included artists such as Fergie, Akon and Omarion.

Cindy Weber, who has two children who ride the bus, said she was shocked when she found the lyrics to some of the songs and brought copies to board members.

Upon hearing how adamant the members were against the proposal, Weber said she questioned why it was even brought to them for their approval.

“I would have hoped that Superintendent (Stephen) Daeschner would have squelched it before it became public like this,” she said. “It upsets me that the administration would even consider selling access to the minds of our children.”

Incoming Superintendent Sheldon Berman, now chief of Hudson Public Schools in Massachusetts, has said his school board has a strict policy against advertisements, which he supports.

Hardesty said he thinks the GPS devices are a nice feature and something the board could consider in the future, separate from any contract with a bus radio company.

“Obviously, the GPS is a perk that this contract would have provided, but the board felt the perceived detriments of the radio on the bus outweighed the benefits of having a GPS system,” he said.

Rick Caple, the district’s director of transportation, said in an earlier interview that he felt the contract was a “win-win situation.” He said studies have shown that music can soothe kids and provide a calmer bus environment.

Caple was not available for comment after the meeting. Daeschner said he would not comment on the board’s decision, referring all comments to Hardesty. 

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