School districts across the state are hurting for money.
With these tough times in mind, the Collingswood School District is turning to its website and school walls as potential moneymakers.
For the first time, the district is allowing advertising in and around school buildings and on school property. The district has already featured advertisers on its website homepage.
With a $500 per space cost and an annual limit of 10 advertisers, reaching the advertiser maximum could potentially raise $5,000 annually for the district.
The policy, which board members approved during Monday's meeting, lets the district sell ad space to local businesses. Advertisements may appear both in schools and on the district website.
District officials said no specific areas or locations for advertisements have been designated yet.
According to the policy, the district may allow ads on "district-owned real estate, district-owned buildings, district-owned or -leased vehicles—including school buses—school district electronic communication mediums including the district website, school district television productions, and any school district-sponsored content on mass media outlets and any other method of communications used by the school district to communicate outside the school district."
According to Collingswood Public School District Superintendent Scott A. Oswald, the district currently does not have in-school advertisers, only online.
"The annual cost (to advertise) is $500," Oswald said via email. "(An advertiser's online) banner will appear or rotate on the district homepage. There is only one ad size (available)."
Currently, Oswald said the district homepage features an advertisement from First Colonial Bank. Advertisers, he said, will be limited to local businesses that support borough schools, such as the bank—the district's only current advertiser, whose banner is posted on the district homepage.
During Monday's meeting, school board members also approved two additional web-based advertisers: Edward Jones Investment Services and Advantage Driving School.
"Advertisers will need to be approved by the board. Any advertising that is counter to the mission of the district will be rejected—(for instance), items like cigarettes or alcohol (would never be considered)," he said. "We will focus on local, family-friendly businesses."
A new revenue source
Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said that while this type of school-based advertising is relatively rare, the concept has been around for generations.
"(NJSBA) issued a news release a few years back with examples of some innovative and unusual ways (schools are) raising revenue," said Yaple. "They included sponsorships, naming a school building after a local business, education foundations and fundraisers.
"When it comes to in-school advertising, you probably don't see it that much, but since budgets have been cut, you're certainly seeing it more and more," said Yaple. "No one's done any research on it, so this becomes anecdotal, but it seems to still be a fairly uncommon (tactic). But if you think about it, we've all seen advertisements on the outfield wall of a school's baseball field, or the ads placed in a school's local yearbook—these types of school-based advertisements have been around for many, many years."
Collingswood isn't the only South Jersey school district looking for creative ways to bring in a dollar: The Moorestown school district is considering whether to allow advertising at its athletic fields.
Yaple said the state recently passed a law allowing school districts to post advertisements on school buses. According to Yaple, specific bill regulations that schools must adhere to are still being drafted.
"Some districts have explored Web ads, and some have instituted them (including Collingswood)," he said. "But our sense is that Web advertisements are still uncommon.
"While advertising may not be uncommon, you're seeing more districts explore alternative ways to raise revenue without impacting taxes," said Yaple. "No one keeps track of what kind of advertising occurs in New Jersey schools—or to what extent—so hard figures are difficult to obtain."
Oswald was familiar with some instances in the region.
"I know there are—or used to be—many schools that had their scoreboards donated by Coke and Pepsi," said Oswald. "Some districts sell naming rights to their facilities; for example, Washington Township has a performing arts center, Brooklawn did something similar with their gymnasium. I'm sure there are others."
Borough resident Rhonda Junikka, whose daughter Alexandra attends Collingswood Middle School, had no dire concern over the policy.
"I don't think (in-school or online) advertising would be a problem," said Junikka. "As long as it's not overboard, because the school's purpose is to educate. I'm wondering if the district could possibly allocate a specific wall to be used for advertising, instead of mixing it in with the curriculum. All in all, if selling ad space is beneficial financially for the district, I don't see any issue with it."
Junikka's daughter, an eighth-grader, also felt the policy wouldn't create much distraction.
"I think the students probably wouldn't pay (advertisements) any mind; they'd probably walk right past," said 13-year-old Alexandra. "That's what I'd do."