Our View: School bus ads — good source of revenue or bad business?

On somewhat of a lighter note, let’s look at the pros and cons of what appears to be a debatable issue regarding advertising on school buses, making available a new stream of revenue to enhance district budgets. First off, let us clarify the fact that allowing advertising on school buses is the result of our lawmakers passing a law permitting such a practice last year. In doing so, Arkansas became the 10th state that gives school districts the discretion of soliciting advertising on their buses. As far as we know neither West Memphis or Marion school districts seem interested in the idea in that neither have publicly discussed those options. Nevertheless, we’re told placing ads on the all-yellow buses has drawn opposition from some critics who consider such a practice as being tacky, a potential distraction to drivers or an exploitation of children. We happen to totally disagree with all three assumptions. So seems this hot topic has become the focal point of business with Bentonville School Board members who are now considering advertising on their buses. Proponents of the bus advertising claim the district stands to generate between $100,000 and $250,000 per year, a tidy sum that must be earmarked for school transportation needs. Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, sponsor of the bill, said, “this is just another tool for their toolbox,” and went on to say, “I hate to see opportunities limited because we’re not willing to look at alternatives.” We could not agree more with Douglas. It is interesting to note that just last month Blytheville School Board members voted to allow such advertising. Blytheville’s original intent was to promote the district using student artwork and student and teacher success stories. As expected, there are those critics who say placing advertising on school buses would be “embarrassing” or “ridiculous.” They also are under the ridiculous impression an ad on a bus, is saying the school district endorsees that product or service for its students. Talk about ridiculous, that particular belief is absolutely asinine. Let us make clear, no ads can be approved that are political or obscene, that promote drugs or alcohol, or that are “otherwise deemed to be inappropriate for minors. The state law specifically mandates that all ads be limited to the exterior of the bus on its rear quarter panels only, starting at least three inches behind the rear wheel and not closer than four inches from the lower edge of the window line. And, we’re told, ads must be contained within a block 30 inches high and 60 inches wide. Let’s take our local school districts for instance. Both spend hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars annually purchasing buses and fuel. Because they don’t contract the service to a private vendor, such as Laidlaw Transit, they must spend tax dollars on a maintenance shop, hire well-paid and certified mechanics and a staff to tend to office duties. Bus transportation plays a large part in both these districts and is a major factor when considering annual budgets. While $100,000 doesn’t seem light a large sum of money when considering everything it can help defer some of the expenses. Let’s put it this way — local schools already allow some form of advertising as exhibited in the electronic temperature and information sign at Richland and West Junior High Schools. Richland’s electronic sign clearly advertises a local bank which certainly can’t be construed as being “embarrassing” or “ridiculous.” Our opinion is that if allowing restricted advertising on school buses is deemed to be financially beneficial then, by all means, proceed.

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