Schools explore advertising as idea for extra revenue

/ 15 March 2011 / Parents United

Dave Aeikens, St. Cloud Times, March 15, 2011 –

St. Cloud will become the latest school district in Minnesota to tackle a discussion about advertising in schools.

It’s a discussion Superintendent Bruce Watkins says he’d prefer not to have, but he said selling ads may be more acceptable than some of the budget reductions that might otherwise have to be made.

St. Francis became the first school district in Minnesota to sell advertising on lockers, walls and open spaces and made national news doing it. Becker, about 18 miles southeast of St. Cloud, approved a similar measure in December and is waiting for the first set of ads to be installed. Centennial in Circle Pines and Monticello school district, about 40 miles southeast of St. Cloud, looked at it but decided against it or to at least wait.

Now Watkins, who leads a district facing a budget shortfall of $1.5 million to $3 million for its 2011-2012 school year and another shortfall the following year, plans to bring the idea to the seven-member school board Wednesday. Twice the issue has popped up before the board’s finance committee without gaining much traction.

“I think we wish it didn’t need to be a consideration,” Watkins said. “Under the best of circumstances, this wouldn’t be an option of any interest.”

Still, Watkins said if it could save school programs or avoid teacher layoffs, it is worth a look. The board is scheduled to hear information from Watkins about the option.

Looking for help

In Becker, the school district has a contract with School Media of Coon Rapids for advertising on lockers, benches, floors, walls and open spaces, said Superintendent Steve Malone, who is in his first year. Becker is looking to close a $900,000 shortfall. The district is expected to receive $140,000 under the contract.

“Given the financial crisis facing Minnesota public  schools, it is important to seek creative solutions to maintain programs,” Malone said.

The ads that will appear in all four Becker schools are limited to health and wellness topics. A committee of parents, teachers and administrators must approve every ad, Malone said.

Growing trend

St. Francis school district blazed the trail for advertising in schools when the school board approved it in October. The decision launched a story in Time magazine.

Ads are in five Minnesota school districts and in schools in five states; schools in another seven states are expected to sign on, School Media co-founder Greg Meyer said. The recent budget struggles of schools have helped the 2-year-old company grow.

“That is why we started the company, to offset the cuts these school districts are needing to take,” Meyer said.

Ads in schools are starting to show up more as schools look for ways to maintain programs and services with limited state and local tax dollars. Idaho and Utah are looking at allowing advertising on school buses.

In 1990, a similar debate took place when Channel One News, an in-school TV program, looked to get into 8,000 schools for a new program that included advertisements.