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Dade Schools Eye Advertising Revenue

 

Kathleen McGrory

Miami Herlad
February 13, 2008

 

Advertisements may soon hang from gymnasium walls and adorn perimeter fencing at public schools throughout Miami-Dade County.

At the urging of the School Board, Superintendent Rudy Crew and his staff are exploring the possibility of allowing advertising in schools as a possible stream of revenue for the cash-strapped district.

While ads abound in other South Florida school districts, the move by the Miami-Dade School Board is nonetheless controversial. Critics say children are already inundated with advertising, and that a captive audience of students shouldn’t be bombarded with the wiles of Madison Avenue.

‘’The perception is that advertising in schools is a free source of money,’’ said Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert, a Washington-based consumer group. ``That isn’t true. There are huge costs involuntarily being taken out on the kids.’’

Advocates say allowing advertising encourages partnerships between local businesses and schools. The revenue doesn’t hurt, either. In Miami-Dade County, the School Board was recently tasked with slashing $240 million from the district’s budget in just four years.

‘’Certainly we want to continue to be competitive with grant money,’’ said School Board member Martin Karp, who proposed the advertising idea at last month’s board meeting. ``But this is also a great opportunity for us to generate some dollars. And it can be done in a very tasteful way.’’

CONTENTIOUS ISSUE

For nearly a decade, advertising in schools has fueled an intense national debate.

In September 2000, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported that commercial activities in public elementary and secondary schools were rising—and fast. The office documented everything from candy advertisements on textbook covers to acne-cream freebies.

Four years later, the agency found that 13 states had passed laws limiting advertising activity in schools.

Still, hundreds of districts have continued to explore advertising, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The Miami-Dade School Board first debated a plan to sell ads inside school buses in 2001. The measure failed.

Board members passed a similar resolution two years later, but the plan never came to fruition, district spokesman John Schuster said.

Karp said he decided to revisit the idea of advertising after observing ads on the fences at several Palm Beach County schools. Businesses there that donate to schools can have their names posted on vinyl signs on school campuses, district spokesman Nat Harrington said.

The signs never advertise specific products, he said.

‘’We’re very careful when it comes to advertising,’’ Harrington said. ``But when education is underfunded, educators have to find creative ways to supplement the dollars.’’

The efforts have raised tens of thousands of dollars, Harrington said.

‘’We have a lot of inventory, from the walls of schools to the fences outside, to nameplates on buildings and on specific rooms,’’ Harrington said. ``There is definitely a market for it.’’

School administrators in Broward County have taken a different approach to advertising. Two years ago, the School Board approved a plan to advertise inside school buses. Recently, school buses have displayed ads for the dairy farmers, Crime Stoppers and Broward Community College.

District Director of Community Involvement Merrie Meyers-Kershaw said her office is very picky about which ads to use inside school buses. They won’t advertise for a specific product, nor will they advertise prices.

An advertising committee oversees all contracts.

‘’I feel very strongly about this,’’ Meyers-Kershaw said. ``Those kids are with us. If we’re going to be talking to them, we should do it in a positive way.’’

All told, the advertising has generated about $50,000 over the past five years, Meyers-Kershaw said.

The district also allows for sponsorship and signage in some schools. In most cases, the advertisers are local businesses that have contributed to the school’s athletic program, Meyers-Kershaw said.

One example: In 2004, Eastern Financial Credit Union donated $500,000 to help build a football stadium at Everglades High in western Miramar. The facility was later renamed for the credit union.

CAUTIOUS SUPPORT

In Miami-Dade, staff members have yet to move forward on any plans for advertising. Karp said he envisions local businesses doing the bulk of the advertising. He would also like individual schools to choose whether or not to sell advertising.

‘’It’s just like what you would see in the yearbook or the school newspaper,’’ he said.

School Board member Wilbert ‘’Tee’’ Holloway said he supports the measure, so long as there is a thorough review of each advertisement.

‘’Funding sources are dwindling,’’ Holloway said. ``We need to think outside the box. This could be another source of revenue.’’

Holloway added: ``Our children are exposed to advertisements throughout their lives. I don’t see why it can’t be a part of the school environment.’’

School Board member Marta Pérez voted in favor of the item, but urged the board to proceed with caution.

‘’Generally, I’m not a fan of advertising,’’ she said. ``The kids see advertising every day. I don’t know if it is a good thing for the district to also be promoting products.’’





 

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