February 15th, 2009

Tacoma Schools Consider Sale of Naming Rights

By Kris Sherman
The News Tribune

Imagine your child having lunch in the Chicken McNuggets Cafeteria at school.

Getting technology training in the Microsoft computer suite.

Or running on the Nike Swoosh Track during PE.

Advertising in schools, sponsorships of events and naming rights to facilities are all possibilities under a draft policy being considered by the Tacoma School Board.

The tasteful selling of the schools could be one way to support activities and programs in cash-short times, Tacoma School District Superintendent Art Jarvis says.

There are no specific proposals at the moment. But they would be possible if the School Board approves the Community Partnerships and Commercial Activities policy now under review.

It could be adopted later this month.

The policy is enabling legislation only, Jarvis told the School Board recently. Any commercial sponsorships, naming proposals or partnerships with businesses or civic groups would be thoroughly researched and subject to board approval.

Finding new streams of money is becoming more and more urgent as school district budgets contract, Jarvis said.

Until the Legislature completes the state’s biennial budget, Tacoma officials won’t know how much their shortfall will be for the 2009-2010 school year. But chief financial officer Ron Hack knows one will exist.

“I know some of these things don’t have a great connotation” he said of naming rights and commercial sales to students and staff. But they can be looked at “as an opportunity to raise money to support all types of programs in Tacoma schools.”

Hack’s and Jarvis’ comments came during a Jan. 22 board meeting.

Perhaps the most well-known such partnership in Pierce County is the one that sprang up between a car dealer and the Sumner School District. It resulted in the home of the Sumner High School Spartans becoming Sunset Chev Stadium.

The dealer agreed five years ago to donate $504,000 in exchange for the naming rights. Monthly payments on the 14-year contract are used to help pay for the stadium’s upkeep, Sumner School District spokeswoman Ann Cook said.

“Rather than redirecting funds from teaching and learning, it allows us to have a fund” for repairs and replacements of things like seats and turf, Cook added.

Partnerships aren’t always commercial.

Across the nation, citizen-led foundations raise money for classroom grants to teachers, scholarships and other needs. They become the academic equivalent of athletic booster clubs.

The Bethel School District Foundation, for example, raised money for special programs in November by holding a donkey basketball game.

The Gig Harbor-based Peninsula Education Foundation raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000 a year for teacher grants and other uses, past president Clark Davis said.

The money allows teachers to plan and implement some lessons and activities the district can’t afford. One memorable grant paid for biology students to learn about sequencing DNA and then do tests on themselves, Davis said.

Some $41 billion was donated to education in the United States in 2006, according to the National School Foundation Association.

It is, of course, the naming of facilities that captures people’s attention. Hack promised there would be “an evaluation process, an approval process” before any specific naming rights proposals get serious consideration in the Tacoma School District.

Sean Butorac, a Stadium High School senior and student representative to the board, likes the idea that there may be ways to bolster student activities. Associated Student Body revenues dried up considerably after soda pop sales were banned in Tacoma schools two years ago, he said.

“This is a great policy to be brought before us,” Butorac said, because students “desperately need” an alternate way of raising money for activities.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see a Lincoln Navigator Bowl or a Subaru Stadium Bowl at the city’s venerable high schools.

Tacomans haven’t been disposed to selling the names of their icons.

In 2003, city officials flirted with selling Tacoma Dome naming rights to Comcast in exchange for up to $7 million in cash and advertising over 10 years. The cable television provider pulled out of the Comcast Dome deal amid much public scrutiny.

Even if a school policy is adopted, board member Debbie Winskill would hold prospective namers to a high standard.

“I’m not in favor of naming buildings or wings or anything after anyone … unless they built it from scratch,” she said.

And if the district takes money in exchange for advertising somewhere, “It better be a good product that we would use,” she added.


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