March 18th, 2010
Ads appear on school websites
By Jeff Martin
A growing number of school districts facing budget cuts are looking to advertising on their websites as a new revenue source.
School districts in Virginia and Arizona already have ads on their official sites, while officials at districts in South Dakota, Wisconsin and California say they are planning to place ads soon.
“Because of the economy, districts are just desperately looking for any source of revenue they can get their hands on,” says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.
“This is really tricky stuff for school districts, though,” says Richard Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University in New York. “They have to be very careful about the image that they’re projecting.”
The 130,000-student San Diego Unified School District has lost about 25% of its revenue in the past three years because of state budget cuts, says chief district relations officer Bernie Rhinerson.
Officials there are developing a plan they believe could generate at least $100,000 annually by selling ads, he says. “I would like to attract advertisers that have an educational message,” Rhinerson says, adding that National Geographic could be an example of that. Susan Linn, a Harvard Medical School psychologist and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says “when schools start allowing commercialism, the students really suffer.”
In Arizona, the state Legislature in January approved schools having ads on their websites. The 33,000-student Paradise Valley Unified School District in the Phoenix area plans to have online ads by summer, says spokeswoman Judi Willis.
Gilbert Public Schools, outside Phoenix, already has ads on its websites. Mercy Gilbert Medical Center decided to advertise to help out the local schools and to reach a target audience of Gilbert residents, says spokeswoman Julie Graham.
In Virginia’s 76,000-student Prince William County Public Schools, school websites include clickable business logos that take visitors to their websites.
“It’s not gaudy and it’s done in a manner consistent with our school system philosophy,” spokesman Ken Blackstone says. The district began Web ads in fall 2008, and met its goal of raising $75,000 in the first year of advertising, he says.
• Green Bay: Officials in the district, facing $6 million in budget cuts, have proposed a revenue plan including ads on school websites, says Amanda Brooker, manager of school and community relations.
• Harrisburg, S.D.: The school board in January approved ads on the district’s calendar page.
Teri Deetz, a parent with children in three Harrisburg district schools, says she has no problem with the ads. “It’s just a fact of life that people are trying to make money and they’re going to try to use your eyes to do it.”
Martin reports for the (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Argus Leader.