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Tennessee Schools Want To Raise Money With Color Ads On Buses

Christina E. Sanchez
The Tennessean
February 16, 2009

Tennessee school buses soon could be carrying advertising slogans along with students as cash-strapped school districts attempt to plug holes in their budgets.

A 1997 state law already allows black-and-white ads on Tennessee school buses only on the rear panel, though no one tracks how many districts offer the space. Now some want to try color ads that could generate $1,500 per bus, by some estimates.

A bill filed in the state legislature would only change the color option in the current law, nothing else, said state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who is sponsoring the measure at the request of the School Board Association.

"School districts all over the state are trying to come up with ways to raise revenues or cut expenses," said Steven Smith, the association's assistant executive director. "Advertisers would be more likely to purchase space if they could provide an ad in color."

Past attempts to allow ads on buses in Williamson and Wilson counties failed to be lucrative in part because the ads were in black and white. Currently, no school district in the Nashville region has ads on school transportation.

Not all condone ads on buses

Metro Nashville parent Jada Lattimore said as long as districts control the types of ads that are put on buses, she would not object. She would like to see a percentage of ads dedicated to colleges or advancing students' futures.

"School districts need an opportunity to generate some revenues," said Lattimore who has three school-age children. "I can understand the concern about constantly feeding them visual messages, but as long as the messages are appropriate, I think it is OK."

Opponents of ads on school buses say they shouldn't be allowed in black and white or color because they send the wrong message that schools can be bought, said Josh Golin, associate director of" decoration:underline;">Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

"We believe it sends a message to children that schools are for sale," Golin said. "And what happens if first you have black and white, then you allow color, then there are ads inside the buses. It's a slippery slope."

Under current law, bus ads can only be 16 inches high and 5 feet in length. No alcohol or tobacco products or campaign advertising is allowed.

Williamson and Wilson counties tried bus ads in the late 1990s. The Wilson School District was behind the original effort to get a law passed to allow school bus ads.

The venture proved to be unprofitable for both in part because black and white ads didn't appeal to businesses and the district did not have enough staff to market the program.

"At a max we had about 15 buses with signs from various companies, and $15,000 was the most we got out of it," said Mickey Hall, deputy director of Wilson schools. "But we know there have been successes in other states with advertising."

Several school districts across the country, including in Colorado, Arizona and South Carolina, have commercial ads on their buses, charging businesses $1,500 or more a year to market their goods.

Colorado Springs District 11, which has 27,000 students, was among the first in the country to advertise on their buses. They have generated as much as $700,000 some years from bus ads.

"It gives us some alternative funding sources," said Elaine Naleski, spokeswoman for the Colorado district. "Schools are really stretched right now ... and it's getting worse and worse."





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