There has been a lot of talk recently about the latest hot topic in education. It’s not vouchers, charter schools, or even budget cuts, rather it’s advertising.
Frankly advertising is something that 20 years ago probably wasn’t ever conceived for public schools, but let’s face it – it’s not 20 years ago. Local school boards have been faced with fiscal belt tightening for the past several years, but Governor Tom Corbett’s 2011-12 budget upped the ante drastically.
Let’s not discuss politics or the fact that the governor and Legislature sold out K-college education for campaign donations and hockey in Allentown. The fact is that school boards have been forced to become creative with new sources of revenue given the local economy and real estate market. The Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) is certainly no different, and we as a board have charged our superintendent and administration to explore all possible revenue sources.
First I believe it is our job to be thorough while ultimately deciding what is appropriate and what is not, and second, if new non-property tax revenue can save valuable programs then we have a duty to do our homework.
The first step in this process was to create an advertising policy to address any and all future advertising opportunities. In the BASD, new policies must come before the board for 3 readings prior to being approved. On March 12, we had our first reading of a new proposed advertising policy, and it was an almost exact duplicate of a newly adopted Parkland SD policy.
I’m sure most folks are aware that Parkland has entered into a rather controversial agreement to advertise inside high school buses. Apparently by duplicating their policy that governs advertising we are doing the same? Well that’s news to me and other board members, but let me quote a local news story in the March 21st edition of the Bethlehem Press. The headline reads:
"Bus Ads Promise Added Revenue" and the opening paragraph written by Douglas Graves reads, "Soon the desperation of the cash-strapped Bethlehem Area School District will have kids surrounded by commercial ads while they are in the school buses if the school board approves a new proposed policy."
Never during this meeting were specific types of advertising discussed. Here is a link to the summarized minutes from the meeting for your reference. In addition other media outlets got it right as you can see here.
Now I write this for two reasons. One is to correct a perceived “done deal” when it comes to buses and buildings in the BASD being draped with big commercial ads and second is to seek opinions on advertising within the BASD. I have heard from many that they are outraged we will be advertising in our buses next year. Others want to know where on the outside buildings we will place the ads.
Now obviously neither of these ideas are anywhere near the truth, but I ask how much advertising is appropriate?
In 2012 with kids immersed in smart phones and ipads do they even notice ads anymore? Ads pop up on web pages and are seemingly constant in magazines and on TV. Why will they only corrupt kids if they see them in school? Is it worth placing a local cable companies name on the scoreboard in the Freedom or Liberty gym in return for the cost of those sports being offset?
Would seeing “John Q Public Plumbing and Heating” on the outfield wall of the baseball fields really harm the students who use those fields? After all it hasn’t seemed to damage little leaguers or Parochial school kids, has it?
That money can then be used to increase the number of full day K classrooms or expand tutoring opportunities. It could add dual enrollment opportunities for our college bound seniors or partially restore the middle school thematic programs that had to be cut. The fact is with local property owners bearing more and more of the cost of local districts as the state backs out of its promises to fund public education we have to explore every opportunity available.
I realize this is an issue that draws passion from a lot of people in the community. Where do we draw the line? When does an ad go too far and who decides? That is exactly why we are working to craft a policy that will address this and other new challenges that public education will have to face in 2012 and beyond.
Please send me your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or by replying to this post.