Friday, February 24, 2012

Seeking Money, Texas Schools Turn to Advertisements

I hate this, but what are desperate schools supposed to do?

The rooftop of a suburban high school is not a location that companies usually consider prime advertising real estate. But in Humble Independent School District, it may be. The district's high school lies directly in a flight path for Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Although the rooftop plan has yet to come to fruition, Humble I.S.D. has already sold the naming rights to nearly every piece of its football stadium, including the entryway, the press box and the turf. Its school buses carry advertisements for the Houston Astros and local hospitals, among others.

The school district is pioneering a practice that an increasing number of districts across the state are adopting: selling advertisements on pieces of school property to help make up for some of the money lost through state budget cuts.

Advertising revenue can benefit school districts that primarily have two sources of income — what they receive from local taxpayers and what they get from the state and federal governments.

But with school leaders under pressure to find creative financing sources and few state-level guidelines about what is appropriate, some researchers who study the impact of ads in schools question whether schools fully grasp the consequences of commercialism creeping into public schools.

The proliferation of companies like Steep Creek Media, which acts as a middleman between districts and would-be advertisers, has made it simpler for schools to get into advertising. Steep Creek offers an attractive proposition for schools — and business is booming, according to its owner and founder, Cynthia Calvert, who represents 35 districts and has had to turn down handfuls of clients.

In exchange for what usually amounts to a cut of 40 percent of the profits, the company lures potential advertisers with a diverse menu of placements: on buses, textbook covers, in-school television monitors, scoreboards and Web sites.

Districts have the ultimate say over what ads they accept, but Steep Creek handles all the work in between, including graphic design.

Easier access to advertisers may not always translate to a more thoughtful process for schools, however


The Texas Tribune

Seeking Money, Texas Schools Turn to Advertisements

Erich Schlegel for The Texas Tribune

Chase Roberts, a mechanic with the Eanes school district in Texas, cleaning the advertising signs on district buses.

Published: February 16, 2012 

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