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Humble ISD pins hope on bus ads

JENNIFER RADCLIFFE

Houston Chronicle
Aug. 22, 2008

When Humble ISD students board school buses next week, they'll be climbing into big yellow vehicles sponsored by day care centers, hospitals and home builders.

The school district is the first in the region to roll out an advertising campaign on its buses to reduce a $17 million budget shortfall. The campaign could generate $1 million a year for the 34,000-student school system, officials said.

Pasadena and Pearland school officials said they may follow suit in coming months with bus advertisements, one of the many ways public schools are scrambling to compensate for state funding shortfalls.

"We really need to try to pursue any potential new revenue streams possible," said Humble Superintendent Guy Sconzo, adding that he also plans to recommend asking voters to approve a 13-cent property tax rate hike later this year.

If the new advertising campaign which also includes selling space in the football stadium and on the district Web site is successful, Sconzo said he will try to offset some of the $8.8 million in budget cuts Humble made this year. The district had to increase high school class size, for example, from 30 to 32 students.

No advertisements will be placed on a bus without district approval, said Sconzo, who has already rejected one company's ad that he didn't think sent an appropriate message to kids.

Others have done it
The northeast Harris County district has sold ads to about 10 companies. Each of Humble's 260 buses could display three ads one on the left rear quarter panel and one above the windows on each side.

Humble is one of the few Texas districts to advertise on school buses.

An affluent district near Dallas made headlines a decade ago when it became one of the first Texas school systems to sell bus ads, prompting a state law limiting the size and location of such ads.

That school system, Grapevine-Colleyville, also signed a $1 million-plus contract in 1997 allowing Dr Pepper to advertise on rooftops of campuses near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Grapevine-Colleyville officials said Thursday that the district intends to use other advertising venues, such as selling ads on the scoreboard of the district's new football stadium.

Sconzo said he'd consider rooftop advertisements at his high schools near airports. Other forms of advertisements, including ads on the football field, may be out of the question, he said.

"It's not about trying to fill all the space we have. It really isn't," he said. "To me, it's drawing the line almost as we go."

Powerful promotion
Josh Golin, spokesman for the Massachusetts-based Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood, said it's inappropriate for school districts to bombard youngsters with advertisements.

"You're linking the product being advertised to schools," he said. "The advertisement becomes so much more powerful."

Cypress-Fairbanks resident Karen Miller, who has spoken out repeatedly about the Channel One station that broadcasts news and advertisements in classrooms in Humble and other districts across the nation, said students shouldn't be subject to school-hosted advertising.

"I do find it offensive that this is another captive-audience ploy," she said."The school districts are desperate. I put the fault back at the state level for giving tax relief and not funding school districts."

Janet Huberty, manager of the Humble-based firm that won the advertising campaign, said she agrees that the funding shortage pushed public schools to look for creative options.

"If the school district was flush with money, there wouldn't be a need to look into additional revenue streams. Unfortunately, that's not the case," she said.

"The benefits of increased revenue to the district outweigh the negatives."

 

 

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