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Manatee school board to explore corporate sponsors

MANATEE -- Google, Lowe’s, Nike and other national corporate names may soon be present on ballfields, websites, brochures and other items representing Manatee County’s public schools.

The school board informally agreed at a workshop Monday to explore a program that would match public schools with national brand-name corporations seeking to advertise through them. The program, administered by a private company, could generate up to $20 per student annually in additional revenue.

“I just see more money coming in to Manatee County,” said board member Barbara Harvey, who suggested the school board form a committee to explore the possibility of participating in the program. “I just could not sleep if we refused to address this. There are all kinds of things we could possibly address.”

Board member Bob Gause joined Harvey in encouraging a close look at the program. Gause said “chasing revenue” has been a “recurring theme” in discussions of budget committees during the past two years.

Other board members raised concerns that national corporations might crowd out the local companies that are currently supporting schools. Julie Aranibar offered the example of Fit2Run, a locally-owned company that works with several schools, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, a national corporation.

“One would be outmatched, and one contributes much more to our community than the other,” she said.

School board Chairman Harry Kinnan echoed Aranibar’s concerns but said he also agreed with forming an exploratory committee. “Most of our high schools and athletic departments have formed these relationships,” he said. “I think we all share Ms. Aranibar’s concerns that some of these relationships have been forged over a long period of time.”

The program would be administered by a company called Education Funding Partners, which matches companies with “bundles” of public schools for advertising opportunities. David Voss, the company’s marketing representative, said the idea has gained steam within the last six months as schools nationwide have struggled with funding cuts.

He emphasized the program would not cost schools any money up-front because Education Funding Partners would receive compensation only on a commission basis as advertising revenue is generated.

“It’s important to look at the service you get for no charge,” Voss said. “School districts simply don’t have this expertise.”

The board also discussed the importance of seeking local firms for services such as legal advice for the school district. Currently, that duty is outsourced to a Tampa firm.

A discussion of the school board attorney’s department was delayed because attorney John Bowen was absent.

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081, on Twitter@chawesreportes, or by blog at www.learningcurve.blogspot.com.

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