South Carolina school districts may be able to bring in extra money next year selling advertisements on activity buses.
Critics of the plan are concerned about how being bombarded with ads would affect students. But leaders in the Charleston County and Dorchester District 2 schools said they would carefully consider the fundraising option if it became available to them.
Legislators’ budget plans for next year include a clause permitting ads on district-owned buses that transport students to athletic events and other extracurricular activities. Ads would still be barred from state-owned yellow buses that take students to and from school.
State Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to delete the proviso, which would allow ads both inside and outside activity buses, from the Senate’s budget proposal. His motion failed 33-6, and debate on the Senate’s budget proposal continues.
Thurmond said Wednesday that he wanted to make sure children were not exposed to constant commercial efforts. “Children have better things to do on an activity bus than think about where to get a hotdog or a hamburger,” he said.
He understands that districts would consider it because it’s a way to bring in money. “But where do you stop?” he said. “Is the next thing advertisements on classroom doors?”
Thurmond said he hopes Charleston-area school districts don’t participate in the plan.
Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye said the measure is something the district, which has 12 activity buses, will follow with interest. The district always needs money, he said, but he understands that when children are involved, parents will have concerns.
The schools already participate in some advertising, Pye said, such as seeking ads for yearbooks and football programs. But if the district pursues selling ads on activity buses, he would first want input from parents and from other school districts who have done it successfully.
Berkeley County School District spokeswoman Susan Haire said the district, which has 51 activity buses, isn’t interested in pursuing advertising on them. District officials didn’t want to comment on why they aren’t interested, she said.
Mike Bobby, chief finance and operations officer for the Charleston County schools, which has 62 activity buses, said, “If they make it available to use, I suppose we would consider it, but we would do so very carefully. Our business is not to push children to form ideas about projects.”
The proviso bars 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.
The state School Boards Association supports the proposal, and a spokesman for state schools Superintendent Mick Zais said he’s also supportive, because it’s a local control issue on buses not owned by the state.
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, who supports the plan, called similar advertising already occurring in his district a tasteful way for businesses to show support for local schools.
Rock Hill School District Associate Superintendent Tony Cox said the district began selling ads on its service vehicles more than a year ago.
“We’re definitely interested in branching out,” said Cox, who got the idea from Gaston County, N.C., schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.