Utah school district first to sell bus ads

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Early next year, a suburban Utah school district will be the first in the state to plaster its buses with advertisements in an effort to generate additional revenue without raising taxes.

The advertising revenue is expected to supplement the relatively flat budget of Jordan School District, spokesman Steven Dunham said. While it won't be enough to make-up for the budget cuts suffered during the current economic downturn, the ads will provide an alternative source of money.

"It's a unique opportunity to generate additional revenue," Dunham said. "Any supplemental funding will be good."

The district is currently searching for a broker to sell the ads for the district, expected by the end of November. Ads could then start appearing sometime in early 2012, Dunham said.

The content of the ads will be restricted, Dunham said. That includes prohibitions on alcohol and tobacco, as well as ads for religious organizations and political campaigns that might be controversial.

The district will also not accept ads from competing educational groups, such as charter or private schools. That was met with criticism from a group that supports school-choice vouchers.

"We're talking about public school buses where public school students ride, and we're limiting access to other public school options," Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in education, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "The policy obviously takes into account things they feel would be inappropriate for children to be exposed to. Then there seems to be other items they are afraid of children being exposed to because it affects their bottom line."

School bus advertisements were permitted by the Legislature earlier this year, although the intent is not to replace state funding with commercial profits, said Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the legislation.

Utah perennially ranks among the lowest states for per-pupil funding, in part because of the large families and young population in the state. Bird said the funding issue is exacerbated by the high percentage of federal lands, which limits the amount of money the state can generate from resource development and taxes.

"We ultimately need to step-up to the plate and fully fund education, and someday we will," Bird said. "But in the meantime, we need to look for alternative ways for districts to earn income."

In the case of Jordan School District, Bird said the money could be used to address some "hazardous safety issues." Those include bus stops on busy roads that need safe crossings for students or the replacement of aging buses.

Seven states allow school bus ads, and three other states considered legislation this year that didn't pass, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Where districts have already started selling ads, the money "can't fix everything" but is a nice supplement, said Michael Beauchamp, president of Alpha Media, which brokers ads for 17 districts in Texas and Arizona.

Often, advertisers are local businesses such as dentists, credit unions or plumbers, Beauchamp said.

While there are concerns about soft drink or fast food ads targeting children, the market is really those "outside of the bus, and many of the children don't even notice them," Beauchamp said.

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