October 1st, 2008

Sun Prairie To Consider Selling Naming Rights To School Facilities

By Angela Bettis
Channel 3000 (WI)

MADISON, Wis.—School districts across the state have been feeling the financial pinch from state revenue caps for several years.

Many districts go to referendum year after year just to maintain programming, but in Sun Prairie, a committee is thinking outside the box for new ways of funding, WISC-TV reported.

The committee is proposing selling naming rights to everything, from the bleachers to the ball fields.

The inspiration behind the idea is the new Sun Prairie High School that is currently under construction.

“We’ve got a great opportunity,” said school board member John Whalen. “We’ve got a brand new high school being built with top notch facilities, a fieldhouse and athletic fields.”

Whalen said the new school is full of naming possibilities.

“It could be as large as a football stadium or fieldhouse or it could be a plaque on a seat in the auditorium or a tile or brick,” said Whalen.

“It’s another way to bring more money into the district,” said deputy district administrator Phil Frei. “I think it’s neat and innovative. A few schools in Wisconsin have done it, not many – but I think you’ll see more.”

School districts in both Sheboygan and Fond du Lac sell naming rights.

In Sheboygan, Acuity Insurance paid $650,000 for naming rights to the school’s fieldhouse. The same company paid $525,000 to name the fieldhouse in Fond du Lac.

“I think as long as it’s done right and the school board thinks through certain issues that could come up, I think it’s a good way to bring some money into the district or pay back and give taxpayers a break,” said Frei.

“We want the taxpayers to know we’re not just looking to dig into their pockets,” said Whalen. “We’re open to other avenues of revenue.”

Under the Sun Prairie proposal, donors would have to come up with a minimum of one-third the cost of whatever they wanted to name, WISC-TV reported.

“For the school board to use as they wish,” said Frei. “It might be to reduce taxes for the next year, might be to upkeep the playground and put it in a fund so we’d always make sure the playground is safe. I could be for thousands of different uses.”

Besides the financial obligation, donors would also have to meet other district criteria in order to be eligible.

“It would have to be in the best interest of education and children,” said Whalen. “It cannot promote drugs and alcohol that type of thing so it has to be in line with our educational goals.”

Frei said that naming donors would have a contract with the district that would spell out details, including provisions for the name to be revoked if necessary.

Under the proposal, any naming donation of less than $25,000 could be approved by district administration – larger donations would need to be approved by the school board.

But Whalen said he is confidant that if a questionable donor came forward the issue would automatically go to the school board.

“I think that’s a good one for the school board,” said Frei. “I think there are some businesses we wouldn’t want to see endorsed on our school district buildings, which is why prior approval from the school board is so important.”

In Madison, the school board approved selling advertisement space in schools several years ago, but public relations director Ken Syke said the board has never discussed selling naming rights to district facilities.

The proposal goes before the Sun Prairie School Board on Oct. 13.

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