May 8th, 2005

Some See School Buses as Vehicles for Advertising

By Susana Enriquez
Los Angeles Times

In an unusual attempt to raise money because of dwindling state funds, a small school district in Central California is considering putting ads in its school buses.

Critics would like to see the practice halted before it spreads. But in the town of Templeton, with only 5,298 people, school officials see it as one of their few options.

Currently, only eight states allow advertising on school buses, said Robin Leeds, spokeswoman for the Virginia-based National School Transportation Assn. In the states that do allow it, the majority of school districts don’t, Leeds said.

Gary Duke, superintendent of the Templeton Unified School District, was opposed to the idea until he saw that the district’s $16.5-million budget was not stretching as far as it used to.

Last year, the district did not fill 10 teaching positions; this year, it won’t fill three. And next year, Duke is expecting a $225,000 decrease in state funding when the 2,700-student district loses about 50 students.

“We’re a school district. We’re not a marketing agency,” he said of Templeton, located 35 miles north of San Luis Obispo. “I’d rather not be doing it because it’s not what schools should be doing. But, we need the money.”

From this marketing venture, the district expects to make $7,560 the first year and $13,230 the second year.

It will probably level off around $15,000 a year because, as a small district, Templeton may not be able to attract many advertisers.

The extra revenue would just about cover the recent rise in fuel costs, said Bill Schassberger, the director of transportation.

“If we need the money and we can make it positive for the kids, maybe it’s not such a bad idea,” said Schassberger, who was also skeptical at first. “We’re not going to buy fun things with this money. We’re going to buy necessities like toilet paper and fuel.”

School trustees will discuss the issue Thursday. If approved, the 12-by-26-inch, thin vinyl ads would be placed inside the district’s 12 buses—the California Highway Patrol does not allow advertising on the outside of school buses—in the concave area where the roof meets the sides.

But Gary Ruskin, executive director of the watchdog group Commercial Alert, said it would be unfortunate if California, which he called a leader in protecting children from commercialism, went the other way on school bus ads.

“It corrupts the integrity of public education because schools and school buses should be used for education, not for hammering children with ads,” Ruskin said. “We send our kids to school to teach them to read and write and add—not to shop.”

In January, the Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona started advertising on the outside of its school buses.

“Arizona is low on the totem pole on the amount of money we get from the state,” said Daniel Shearer, the director of transportation. “We’re always looking to reduce our expenditures and increase our funding.”

So far, the district has made $17,000 a month; next year, district officials hope to raise $40,000 a month.

Shearer said the district plans to use some of the money to retrofit vehicles in its fleet to curb pollution. The rest of the money will go into the general fund.

Of the 100 ads that are plastered on the sides of Scottsdale’s school buses, the Martin Buick GMC dealership has cornered the market with 70 ads. Scottsdale’s original ambulance company has between 30 and 40 public service advertisements about keeping safe around water.

Shearer said he has received three inquiries per week from school districts in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland and Florida.

Media Advertising in Motion, a newcomer in the bus advertising business, holds the Scottsdale account and is vying for Templeton.

Jim O’Connell, one of the principal partners of Media AIM, said the company is negotiating with eight districts, predominantly in Arizona and California, and is expecting proposals from half a dozen others.

“It’s growing out of a strong need for revenue at schools,” he said.

Media AIM, which is based in Menifee in Riverside County, charges advertisers $30 to $55 per month for interior ads, depending on the quantity of ads and the length of the campaign. The district receives 60% of the revenue.

The company avoids ads for alcohol, tobacco, gambling and anything with sexual connotations. It allows each school district to set its own policy on what ads are acceptable. Scottsdale, for example, only considers for-profit corporations because those ads can be handled as commercial speech and therefore be subject to tighter regulations than advocacy ads that can be defended on 1st Amendment grounds.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest district in the nation, has considered placing ads inside its buses for the past few years.

David Palmer, the deputy director of transportation, said that at some point, district officials will evaluate the problems and successes of other school districts.

By placing 20 ads on each of the 1,300 buses it owns, Los Angeles Unified could make about $800,000 per month. The district could get significantly more if it also places ads on the nearly 1,000 buses it contracts for.

“It’s something that is definitely on the radar,” Palmer said. For now, he added, the project is on the “back burner.”


  1. Posted by ARENSONAS on January 17th, 2006

    I’m a French journalist for a public transportation magazine, and I’m writing a feature about advertising on schoolbuses in some American school districts. I have the information, but I’m despertaly looking for a high resolution poicture showing a school bus with ads. Can you please help me and send me one ASAP?
    Many thanks
    Nathalie Arensonas, Bus & Car magazine

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