MARIETTA - Letting a business advertise on the side of a school bus is seen by some people as a reasonable way for school districts to earn extra revenue.
Warren Local school board member Sidney Brackenridge isn't one of them.
"I keep saying it's a sign of the apocalypse if you've got to resort to putting advertising on a school bus," he said with a laugh.
Although the idea likely has more to do with struggling school budgets than the impending end of the Mayan calendar, the concept is being explored by more and more states.
A bill to allow advertising on school buses in Missouri passed that state's House of Representatives but died in the Senate earlier this month. And similar bills have been introduced in Ohio's General Assembly, the most recent being House Bill 233 last year.
State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, was a co-sponsor of the bill, which had bipartisan support. There was committee testimony on it, but no further action; however, Thompson said it could be revisited in the fall.
How much money a district could earn would depend on the size of the market and how many people see the ads, Thompson said, but it's worth exploring.
"This is all found money for the districts," Thompson said. "Certainly it puts additional discretionary dollars in the hands of the districts to be used for whatever their most pressing need is."
Colorado Springs School District 11 was one of the first districts in the nation to sell ad space on its buses. LouAnn Dekleva, volunteer services coordinator with the district said Wednesday the revenue was between $1,500 and $2,000 for the current school year.
The number has been higher in years past, but it declined as the economy struggled, she said. She noted the district also works out in-kind deals with businesses and offers bus ads as part of a package of advertising that costs up to $12,000 a year.
"It works great," she said, noting the bus ads are handled by a private company that earns a portion of the proceeds. "They do all the selling, and we get final approval on it."
Nine states allow advertising on school buses, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups, parents and individuals that opposes the practice. The organization is tracking legislation in eight other states, six of which appear to be dead, at least for the current sessions.
"The financial plight of schools is extremely worrisome, but turning school buses into traveling billboards for everything from fast food to violent and sexualized media is not the answer," says the group's School Bus Ad Action Center website, www.commercialfreechildhood.org/actions/schoolbusads.html.
Ohio's HB 233 would prohibit ads for alcohol, tobacco, gambling, political issues and anything of a sexual nature.
Brackenridge and other local school officials said their main opposition to the proposal has to do with safety.
"I think people would be paying attention to what some of the signs are saying instead of the children around the bus," said Fort Frye Local Board of Education member David White.
Michael Beauchamp, president and CEO of Alpha Media, said the Dallas-based company has been putting advertising on buses for school districts around the country for four years and hasn't had any reports of accidents related to the ads.
"It's not like the bus is wrapped," he said, noting it's still recognizable as a school bus.
Thompson said that concern was raised in committee but testimony made him confident it wouldn't be an issue.
"This has been road-tested elsewhere," he said.
Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn said he doesn't know if the ads would be a significant distraction, but he's still hesitant.
"All it takes is one problem of a kid who's not being attentive stepping out in front of a car that's not being attentive. And that throws every good thing away," he said.
Dunn said he'd welcome businesses to approach him about other advertising opportunities though.
"I would love to generate funds from our businesses, but I don't know that school buses are the way to do that," he said.
Marietta resident Dante Sherman, 23, has two sisters who ride the bus to school. If the safety aspect could be properly addressed, he thinks advertising on buses could benefit extracurricular programs like choir and sports.
"If they can come up with more creative ways to make money, then I think it's great," he said.
Diane Arnold, 61, of Marietta, said she didn't think advertising on buses was appropriate at first blush, but admitted it might become a necessary evil.
"The way school districts are hurting for money, it would come in handy for that," she said.
Brackenridge said it might be tempting to consider the additional revenue advertising on buses could bring, but it doesn't address the real problem of school funding.
"You're trying to look for a penny when you've got a $50 problem," he said.