Some say schools are no place for ads. But ads can help cash-strapped districts make money.
School lockers are becoming the latest venue for bombarding kids with advertising.
Just what that will look like is on display at the north suburban Centennial school administration building: four lockers wrapped in a bubblegum pink ad for the Mall of America's "Underwater Adventures" aquarium.
On Nov. 1, the school board is slated to decide whether it will allow the ads on up to 10 percent of the available surfaces in all of the district's seven schools. That includes lockers, walls and floors. The take for the district? $184,000 a year.
In a bleak economy, with dim prospects for any new state school funding, Centennial -- with $3.6 million in cuts this year and more likely on the way next year -- is just the latest school district looking at the ads as an alternative way to generate some cash. Paul Miller, president of Coon Rapids-based School Media's, the company that would install the ads, said he expects to have nine Twin Cities school districts signed up by the end of the year.
Nearby St. Francis schools already made that decision. Ads will start going up on lockers there this week, said district Superintendent Edward Saxton. The district's agreement with School Media's is similar to Centennial's proposed agreement. Its take: $190,000 to $200,000 a year.
"I hate to say it's all about the money, but it probably is," said Paul Stremick, Centennial school superintendent. "Still, we want to keep students' interests in mind." That means the district would be allowed to turn down ads not deemed suitable for kids.
St. Francis schools' Saxton stressed that the advertising initiative is a one-year experiment.
"In the spring of next year, we'll look at the revenue stream generated and make sure it wasn't a distraction to learning," he said. "If there are problems, we're obviously not going to continue it, but if they become kind of a normal, everyday deal, it could just be part of the culture."
Such a step would represent a significant uptick in advertising for Minnesota schools, most of which haven't gone past a few ads on the football scoreboard, contracts with beverage companies for pop machines or a few small ads in the printed programs for extracurricular activities.
Some districts -- South Washington County, Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan and Osseo among them -- say they have no interest in displaying ads in their schools, at least for now. The Minneapolis School District prohibits such displays in its schools.
Some school officials say they have found either support or a lack of concern among their parents. Others say such advertising crosses the boundaries of what schools should allow.
"I think it's somewhat unethical to be targeting advertising to our students," said Centennial board chair Christina Wilson, who plans to vote against the proposal. "I have problems with targeting advertising to our kids. The other thing is, I like how our schools look. To make our hallways look like billboards bothers me."
Nationwide, school districts have already taken the plunge into school advertising. According to published reports, school districts in Southern California and Colorado have reached agreements to run ads either in schools or on school buses. In Colorado Springs, schools once had ads touting the likes of Coca Cola, Qwest and Phil Long Ford, a car dealership.
The advertising dropped off quite a bit, said district spokeswoman Elaine Naleski, after advertisers sensed they weren't getting their money's worth.
National PTA president Chuck Saylors, also a school board member from Greenville, S.C., said plenty of parents nationwide are cool to the idea.
"They think we're trying to franchise our kids," he said. "They're in school to learn, not to exercise their purchasing power."
Miller, School Media's president, said the company's polling and input at school district open houses indicates that "we have about 90 percent parents' and schools' approval" in the districts he has contacted about the ads.
Miller said his company deals exclusively in ads that are "beneficial" for kids.
"We require all advertisers to be education-, nutrition- or health-and-wellness-based," Miller said. "If it falls outside those parameters, we don't allow them to advertise in the schools."
That means, for example, a supermarket ad could be acceptable as long as it featured nutritious foods. Other examples of acceptable ads could be the Minnesota Zoo and a public service ad warning students not to text while driving.
Stremick said they could also include ads for a bank urging students to save for college or an insurance company noting that better grades can equal lower premiums.
Norman Draper • 612-673-4547