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South Carolina school districts may have a new option for fundraising next school year — selling advertisements on activity buses.
Legislators' budget plans for 2013-14 include a clause permitting ads on district-owned buses that transport students to athletic contests and other extracurricular activities. Ads would still be barred from state-owned yellow buses that take students to and from school.
Sen. Paul Thurmond tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to delete the permission from the Senate's budget proposal.
"Our young people are constantly marketed to," said Thurmond, R-Charleston. "They deserve a little bit of a break from the advertising going on."
His motion failed 6-33.
Sen. Wes Hayes said it allows ads on the outside of buses, to be viewed by passing motorists. He also called it a "home rule" issue, saying school boards should get to make such decisions about locally-owned buses.
"It's just something on the outside directed at the general public," said Hayes, R-Rock Hill.
The budget clause, however, does not limit ads to the exterior, though it does specifically bar promotion of a political candidate, ideology or cause, a product harmful to children, or one that "appeals to the prurient interest." School boards would define those parameters for their buses.
Hayes called similar advertising already occurring in his district a tasteful way for businesses to show support for local schools.
Rock Hill school district began selling ads on its service vehicles more than a year ago.
"We're definitely interested in branching out," said Associate Superintendent Tony Cox, who got the idea from Gaston County, N.C., schools.
So far, local businesses have bought six ads — the largest one covering both sides of its courier van at a cost of $4,500 a year. Sponsored by Williams & Fudge, it congratulates and pictures the district's teachers of the year. Prices depend on the size of the vehicle and the miles it drives, with the smallest ad costing about $1,000 a year, Cox said.
But his district is still working on the pricing, and he envisions smaller ads for nonprofits, perhaps even on the tailgate of a pickup. The maximum potential for ads on the district's fleet of 50 service vehicles is probably $85,000. Or, as Cox put it, enough to hire two first-year teachers.
"It's revenue to help in the classroom," he said.
He hasn't yet priced the ad potential for the district's 34 activity buses. But the plan would be to put ads on their back quarter panel, he said.
"It really doesn't expose children to any marketing any more than the dozens of banners hanging around football stadiums or around any basketball game," Cox said.
It's unclear whether or how many other school districts are interested in selling ads on activity buses.
The school Boards Association hasn't heard from other districts but supports the proposal. A spokesman for Superintendent Mick Zais said he's also supportive, since it's a local control issue on buses not owned by the state.
Debate on the Senate's budget proposal continues Wednesday on the chamber floor.
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