Sign of tough times: advertising as revenue stream for Manatee schools

February 28, 2012 

Battered for years now with funding cuts from the state, Florida’s public schools are looking everywhere for revenue. The Manatee County school district is joining that conversation, brain-storming potential sources of new money. The commercialization of schools is the current hot topic, one that raises a number of questions.

What’s the cost?

Education Funding Partners collaborates with districts across the country, selling sponsorships to corporations looking to expand marketing efforts. But if the company wants the district to form a new department and hire staff to deal with advertising, will the cost-benefit ratio make this a viable revenue stream? Or, as district finance officer Jim Drake fears, will the impact be negligible? Then this would be a pointless exercise. The public must be assured of a certain profit.

But this is only at the idea stage, and the school board has yet to dig deeply into the issue. A committee has not been formed to examine the company’s pitch.

Will the community support advertising on all manner of school property, including buses, fences, cafeterias, websites, brochures, newsletters, athletic fields and student events? Or will there limitations with certain places such as school corridors, cafeterias and other interiors spaces off limits? Community buy-in is important.

How would any income be spent? Equally between all schools? With principals determining spending priorities?

A number of Manatee schools have marketing programs in place that are successful. Lincoln Middle School’s business banners on fences and athletic fields are one of the most publicly visible. Local businesses that support schools should special consideration over national corporations that Education Funding Partners might attract.

Drake told Herald education reporter Christine Hawes that the district is already pursuing other revenue sources, such as renting out some facilities and providing vehicle warranty work to other districts. The latter could produce $50,000 annually, a boon at a time when administrators are pinching pennies. Manatee High’s performing arts center in the new Davis Building would seem to be a great venue for cultural organizations.

With Orange County raking in more than $500,000 a year on widespread advertising, the possibilities for Manatee County schools are intriguing.

State leaders in Tallahassee refuse to tap new revenue sources, such as a sales tax on Internet purchases that Florida’s business community supports as a competitive fairness issue. While our preference would be to leave school buses and cafeterias free of commercialization, reality is forcing administrators and the school board to look everywhere for new revenue streams. If students are the direct beneficiaries, sign us up.

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