- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Big yellow school buses could become rolling billboards if a bill approved by the Indiana Senate makes it all the way through the General Assembly.

School buses would be allowed to carry ads in the Indianapolis neighborhoods of Franklin Township and Beech Grove and in Zionsville, a small community just northwest of Indianapolis, as part of a pilot program.

Franklin Township schools drew the rage of parents when it outsourced transportation to a company that charged for bus rides. The plan, which led to serpentine waiting lines of cars belonging to parents who refused to pay the charge, was later dropped.

The idea of bus advertisements is to give cash-strapped school districts a way to raise revenue without increasing taxes. Several districts already sell advertising on their high school stadiums.

“There’s no interest by the public to do anything about raising property taxes,” Sen. Patricia Miller, who sponsored the plan, told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/NMhT3l ).

Schools and other local taxing units have seen their capacity to raise revenue held back by tax caps that limit property taxes to 1 percent of a home’s assessed value.

But an official with a bus drivers group said ads on school buses could endanger students.

“The guy reading that sign is not going to be paying attention to what that bus is doing,” said Jim Howard, vice president of the Indiana State School Bus Drivers Association, which represents about 400 drivers. “Is it worth the risk?”

The Zionsville district’s chief financial officer says that ads on its 74 buses could raise up to $60,000 in the first year.

“We’ve done our homework, and we don’t think safety is an issue,” Mike Shafer said. “We are hoping we can get a good selection of advertisers for this pilot project.”

Wayne Saunders, transportation director for Beech Grove Schools, said only limited space would be allowed for advertising.

The Franklin Township district tried to reduce its financial losses by eliminating free bus service for the 2011-2012 school year because a tax referendum failed. In 2012, lawmakers made it illegal for Franklin Township and other districts to stop providing bus service, but allowed them to refinance their debt.

The bus advertisement measure passed the Senate 49-0 as part of an amendment to another bill, and now goes back to the House, which can either agree with the changes or send the bill to a conference committee.


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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