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Bob Confer Column: Advertising could help school budgets

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Allow advertising on school grounds

By Bob Confer

Sometimes when watching the national news you might catch in the background of stories about public schools in other states sights that seem completely foreign to New Yorkers – football field sponsorships and other means of advertising throughout the school grounds.

Such revenue streams have provided considerable windfalls to the districts that partake in them.

They could do the same for our local schools…if the State let them pursue it.

In the fall of 2019 the Empire Center produced a white paper looking at this very issue. It provided a stunning list of examples of successful partnerships between businesses and schools. 

The South Bend School District secured a $300,000 deal with a credit union for stadium naming rights and is in process of securing $3 million more in miscellaneous naming rights from numerous enterprises. 

The Prosper School District near Dallas got their local pediatric hospital to kick-in $2.5 million for naming rights at their football field.

The Morris School District in New Jersey brings in $3,300 per bus per year by allowing advertising signage on them.

Those represent a handful of literally hundreds of success stories across the country. In all cases, the sponsorships have allowed the districts to forgo tax increases — and even decrease their tax rates — while ensuring their students have the very best science, computer, and tech labs and access to the arts and athletics.

We could use a healthy dose of that here in New York.

Populations are on the decline and taxes are high. More revenues are being collected from fewer people, compounding the woes that have led to upstate’s decline. This has caused many districts to consider what services, programs, and teachers to cut in response to this fiscal stress, which will ultimately lead to bare bones education in many districts which would take away some of the niceties that families have come to expect and students need in order to be prepared for college, trade school, and the workforce.

Since they can go to the well only so many times in their beleaguered communities, districts need alternative sources of income. Advertising fits the bill.

But, in order to reap those benefits, it would take some help from the State.

It starts with the State Constitution. Section 1 of Article VIII of our legal framework says “No county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or private corporation or association, or private undertaking…”

Numerous interpretations of the “giving property” language by the office of the state Attorney General through the years have stymied most attempts to secure funding because, in theory, the schools would be giving property, leased or on loan, albeit small, to the businesses sharing their name, logo, or brand. 

As if the furor of the AG isn’t enough, schools must also contend with standards put forth by the Board of Regents and the State Education Department.  To clarify their stand on the Constitution, the Regents prohibit schools from entering into contracts that permit commercial promotional activity on school campuses.

So, because of these interpretations, New Yorkers are denied the access to revenue streams that residents of other states enjoy, putting the entire burden on taxpayers.

There are some ways to correct this.

One would be the full repeal of the state’s prohibition of school bus advertisements. While most buses are not property of the schools, the owners thereof are not allowed to grant advertising. If they could, you’d see a marked decline in the rate extended to schools. With the expensive changeover to electric school buses coming soon, this is a “must”.  

The Legislature would also have to pass legislation that would authorize commercial activity such as sponsorships, naming rights and commercial advertising on school grounds. If they did so, it would require an alteration of the Constitution through a referendum on the November ballots. Any legislative proposal must be approved by two successive Legislatures before being submitted for voter approval.

But, getting the Legislature onboard might prove difficult. The Empire Center’s report notes that bills to authorize advertising were introduced in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 yet they never advanced from the Assembly’s Education Committee despite passage by the Senate in ’15 and ’17.

So, what can you do as a parent who wants the best for your kids, a teacher who needs resources for your students, and as a taxpayer who would like your burden lessened? Reach out to your Assemblyperson and Senator and ask that they reintroduce such legislation and champion it.

As the past two years have shown, in–person learning is incredibly important and we’re faced with serious needs in terms of technology, learning tools, and HVAC, to name a few. If naming rights can allow districts to acquire those resources while being the difference between keeping or cutting orchestra or shop class it’s certainly worth the change in the Constitution and the change in our culture.  

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