- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. (AP) - When Sahara Sam’s Oasis Water Park was looking for a creative way to advertise, school buses were a perfect fit.

“We absolutely got business from them,” said Chris Peters, director of marketing and public relations for the West Berlin park in Camden County, which has ads on 170 school buses around the state. “You’ll see a thousand billboards on I-95. This was something different, and I’d much rather give money to a school district that can put it to good use.”

Almost five years after the state passed a law allowing advertising on school buses, the concept is still catching on slowly. But as state aid remains frozen, and tax levies are capped, more districts are considering it as a way to drive revenue.

This month, Vineland became the 23rd district to join a program run by the nonprofit Educational Information and Resource Center, or EIRC, in Mullica Hill, which matches districts and advertisers and previews the ads in exchange for a percentage of the projects.

Helen G. Haley, Vineland School District business administrator, told the Press of Atlantic City (https://bit.ly/1Ieegyv ) they are trying to find creative and alternative sources of revenue each year as it becomes more difficult to balance the budget with flat funding of state aid. She said the Transportation and Finance Committees investigated and recommended the ads, and the school board approved them. She said they hope to generate about $10,000 this year.

“We are budgeting conservatively since this is our first year,” Haley said.

This week, Jack Calkin, school bus advertising director at EIRC, placed promotional ads on a few of Vineland’s more than 100 buses. He said the recession kept many businesses out of advertising, but things are picking up.

Among the larger advertisers have been Comcast, South Jersey Gas, Thomas Edison State College and Burlington County College. He said they have also gotten smaller local doctors and businesses that target specific towns.

Calkin said advertisers typically want high-volume areas where lots of people will see the ads. Some will focus on one district, and others, such as Sahara Sam’s, will spread their ads around.

Ads come in two sizes with an annual cost of $720 per bus for a 2-by-6-foot ad and $520 per bus for a 2-by-4-foot ad, including printing and installation. EIRC keeps 35 percent of the ad revenue.

Only buses owned by school districts are eligible, and there are restrictions as to the size and location of the ads. Statewide, 277 districts own their own buses. School boards can reject any ad they deem inappropriate, and there can be no advertising that would promote gambling, tobacco, alcohol or products designed for sexual activity.

Thomas Edison State College began advertising on school buses in Jackson Township in January 2014. Spokesman Joseph Guzzardo said the ads are targeted to parents of elementary schoolchildren who might be interested in finishing their bachelor’s degree or adding a master’s degree they could do online.

“We are looking for busy adults and we know parents are busy adults,” he said. “Our message is now that the children are off to school, it’s your turn.”

Guzzardo said their web traffic increased 10 percent and requests for information increased 33 percent from the Jackson area since the ads started.

Not everyone is on board with the idea.

New Jersey is one of just 10 states that currently allow ads on school buses, said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. He said they oppose the ads, even if they are for something like a college, because they commercialize the school environment.

“The first thing a child will see each morning is an ad on their bus,” he said. “And it could appear that the school district is endorsing the ads.”

He said districts are not making a lot of money from the ads, so he questions whether they are worth the trouble.

Jackson Township has made the most money so far, about $37,000, but several districts, including the Atlantic County Special Services School District, have earned less than $10,000.

Egg Harbor Township school board member Peter Castellano said they have discussed putting ads on district buses but never reached a consensus on it. He said he might be willing to support ads for something like a college.

“It may be time for us to consider school bus ads again,” he said. “I always see ads for colleges and universities on NJ Transit buses. That would seem a perfect fit for our buses.”


Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), https://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

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