March 21, 2010 in City

Budgeters mull bus ads

Washington’s Legislature rejected suggestion this year
Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Marc Horner, fleet manager for Jeffco Public Schools, stands next to a school bus at the schools’ bus maintenance facility in Lakewood, Colo., last month.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – School districts have imposed all sorts of drastic cuts to save money during the down economy, canceling field trips and making parents pay for everything from tissues to sports transportation.

And some have now resorted to placing advertisements on school buses.

School districts say it’s practically free money, and advertisers love the captive audience that school buses provide.

That’s the problem, say opponents: Children are being forced to travel to school on moving media kiosks, and the tactic isn’t much different from dressing teachers in sponsor-emblazoned uniforms.

“Parents who are concerned about commercial messages will have no choice,” said Josh Golin, associate director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. “Parents won’t be given the option to send their kids on the ad-free bus.”

Washington lawmakers considered the idea of school bus advertising this year, and the concept is also being tossed around in Ohio, New Jersey and Utah. About half a dozen states already allow bus advertising – including Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas.

The idea can be traced back about 15 years, but budget woes have led to a recent resurgence.

Jefferson County Schools, the largest district in Colorado, has a three-year contract with First Bank of Colorado worth about $500,000 over four years, said district spokeswoman Melissa Reeves. That translates into about $7 a day per bus, a fraction of the district’s total $959 million budget but important at a time when every dollar counts.

Washington state Sen. Paull Shin, a Democrat who represents a district north of Seattle, raised the idea during the Legislature this year because the state’s $2.8 billion budget deficit was literally keeping him awake at night with concern about its effect on schools and students, he said. The bill failed.

“We thought this would bring a few shekels to the school boards,” he said.

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