October 17th, 2011
To balance budgets, schools allow ads
By Dan Hardy
Without ever cracking a book, students in Bucks County’s Pennsbury School District are learning a new subject this year: marketing.
Starting three weeks ago, the 16 elementary, middle, and high schools are being adorned with - some say defiled by - advertisements as large as 5 by 10 feet. By month’s end, 47 should be in place. Ultimately, 218 are to appear on walls and floors, and shrink-wrapped over lockers, locker-room benches, even cafeteria tables.
In what administrators say is a first in the Philadelphia area and probably the state, the Pennsbury school board signed a contract with a national advertising agency that could boost the district’s battered budget by as much as $424,000, while giving the firm’s clients access to the habitat of 10,950 children, tweens, and teens.
The ads must relate to health, education, nutrition, or student safety, and may not directly endorse products. They tout, among other things, reading and outdoor activities (the U.S. Library of Congress and the Ad Council); organizational skills (Post-it Notes), and concussion awareness (Dick’s Sporting Goods).
They have debuted to love-’em/hate-’em reviews from students and parents. But to district officials - who cut the budget this year by $3 million and dipped into savings for a additional $3.1 million - they are a bow to necessity.
“It’s imperative we find alternate means to preserve our programs,” Assistant Superintendent W. David Bowman said. “We’d prefer to generate revenues rather than cut programs or increase class size” - or raise taxes, which Pennsbury did not.
Although such commercial deals are rare in public education, the brutal economy is making them less so.
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