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Mansfield pulls plug on Bus Radio

BY MICHAEL GELBWASSER / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF

MANSFIELD -- School officials have pulled the plug on Bus Radio, the latest commercial attempt to reach students -- this time with a blend of music, advertising and public service announcements.

The school committee Tuesday night, citing parents' feedback, rescinded a recent vote to install Bus Radio on Mansfield school buses next fall.

`` People felt very strongly about this, I must say,'' Vice Chairman Frank DelVecchio said.

The Needham  Bus Radio would have paid Mansfield schools $10,000 for the right to broadcast advertising, news and music on school buses every morning and afternoon. The setup works like satellite radio available in passenger cars.

Critics say, however, that students shouldn't -- as a captive audience -- be subjected to commercial messages.

Apparently numerous local parents agree, and gave school officials an earful.

`` A lot of parents'' expressed concern about allowing advertising on the buses, Superintendent John Moretti said.

Numerous parents worried about exposing elementary school students to the `` subliminal messages that kids would get through the advertising,'' Moretti said.

Bus Radio contended in a proposal to school officials that 44 minutes of every hour of broadcasting would be devoted to music and news. Advertising would take up eight minutes, public service announcements and safety messages would account for six minutes of hourly broadcasts, and contests would be two minutes.

Another concern was that the radio would distract bus drivers.

`` That becomes a safety issue,'' Moretti said.

The $10,000 would have funded bus repairs in the schools' pay-and-ride program, he said.

The company did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Bus Radio is the latest instance in which area school officials have wrestled with allowing advertising in and around school to raise additional funds.

Georgia-based Channel One television network reaches up to 40 percent of high schools nationally, including several in the Attleboro area.

Channel One also supplies free documentary videos about history, literature, science and other subjects, but advertising is a component.

But local school districts have largely turned down overtures from advertisers.

North Attleboro school officials to backed off a proposal in 2004 to allow advertising in school gymnasiums, on buses and even bathroom stalls.

Money collected would have gone to the North Attleboro Education Fund.

A year earlier, King Philip officials mulled selling commercial advertising space at the middle school and high school to help offset a potential $1.2 million cut in the school budget and preserve programs and staff.

In 2002, a bill in the House would have allowed advertising space to be sold on school buses. The program was projected to have generated $5 million the first year.

The Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is sending letters to all 344 Bay State school superintendents urging them not to sign with Bus Radio.

`` Bus Radio is going to create a captive audience of students. Students are not going to have a choice about whether to listen to it or not,'' Campaign program manager Josh Golin said.

`` Schools should not be offering their children for sale to anybody.''

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