October 10th, 2007

Seminole schools agree to give Bus Radio a trial run, but PTA still wary

By Dave Weber
Orlando Sun-Sentinel

Despite concern about pushing advertisements to a young captive audience, the Seminole County School Board agreed unanimously Tuesday to let a Massachusetts company put its daily radio show on school buses.

Bus Radio got the go-ahead to broadcast a program of rock music, FCAT lessons and advertisements to about 4,800 students on 53 buses in a trial run that will go through the end of the school year.

If district officials decide it is a success, they’ll let the company put its radios in the district’s fleet of buses serving more than 30,000 students.

Officials say the radio program will keep students busy so drivers can concentrate on the road. Critics contend that it forces ads on kids who have no alternative but to listen.

Orange, Volusia and Polk schools have rejected Bus Radio, but the Osceola and Brevard districts may be interested. The company has its radios in about 7,500 buses around the country.

Seminole School Board members said the benefits of the radio show seem to outweigh any drawbacks, but they will evaluate Bus Radio’s performance during the test run.

“This is strictly a pilot. I am real concerned about it,” School Board member Dede Schaffner said.

Board member Diane Bauer said she wants to know more about the ads that will be on the show. Board member Sandy Robinson suggested a committee be set up to check out ads and songs before the trial run starts, and other board members agreed.

To help win support, Bus Radio has promised the district six minutes out of each broadcast hour for its own use. Officials plan short lessons to help students pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The district also will get a share of the company’s advertising revenues, although that is expected to amount to only a few thousand dollars a year.

Superintendent Bill Vogel had been unaware that the Parent-Teacher Association and dozens of other groups oppose Bus Radio in a nationwide flap over advertising to schoolchildren. But he stood behind his recommendation to approve the contract and suggested that a PTA representative to be on the committee reviewing songs and ads.

Nancy Cox, a Heathrow Elementary teacher who serves on the national PTA board, told the Orlando Sentinel that the group has taken a stand against Bus Radio, and she agrees advertising to schoolchildren on buses is inappropriate.

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