Ads on school fences causing a flap


Schools watchdog Larry Murray has taken exception to commercial advertising displayed on school fences, citing particularly Key Largo and Plantation Key schools. In a recent email he asked, “Does anyone know when the elementary schools in the Upper Keys began selling advertising on the fences that line the property? I did not see the same type of advertising on the fence outside of Sugarloaf School. Any particular reason?”

Well, yes. Apparently no local businesses have purchased the Sugarloaf space.

Superintendent Mark Porter said last week that there is “some degree of advertising on school sites at several of our locations, more frequently on the fences of athletic fields.” This “site-based revenue” has existed for many years — he cited the “Back Yard” fields at Key West High School as a specific example.

“During these difficult financial times, we’re seeing an increase,” Porter said. “The district is unable to provide adequate funding for the schools. Site-based revenue is an enhancement” to that funding.  He added that he believed the advertisers to be local “small businesses without large advertising budgets, community-based.”

The district has a “strict, tight policy and procedures” concerning the fundraising, the superintendent said. Murray requested a copy of that policy statement from Porter. Instead, it was school board member Andy Griffiths who provided the document: 9700.01 – Advertising and Commercial Activities.

This policy statement addresses Product Sales, Direct Advertising/Appropriation of Space, and Indirect Advertising and provides sections on General Advertising Guidelines and Accounting.

The first category is straightforward, concerning such practices as refreshment sales at games and performances and “short-term sales of gift-wrap, cookies, candy etc.” by schoolchildren. In the third category, indirect advertising, speaks to “corporate-sponsored instructional or educational materials, teacher training, contests, incentives, grants or gifts” and “the use of instructional materials developed by commercial organizations such as films and videos.”

It is clearly the direct advertising category that applies to what Murray defines as “banners hanging from perimeter fences,” which is in fact the first item in that section: “signage and billboards in schools and school facilities.”

Murray is primarily critical, however, of the approval and oversight of the ads. “My main objection is that there is no monitoring, that there are no controls and that there is nothing built into the policy to mandate such,” he said. “The policy discusses content almost exclusively while ignoring process and procedure.”

Porter disagrees; 9700.01 states, “It is further the policy of the Board that its name, students, staff members and District facilities shall not be used for any commercial advertising or otherwise promoting the interests of any commercial, political, nonprofit or other non-school agency or organization, public or private, without the approval of the Board or its designee.” In this case a designee has been named.

“Monitoring is somewhat informal and delegated to the building principal,” the superintendent said. There is obvious concern about content. He visits county schools often and “I’ve not seen anything inappropriate.”

However, Murray, who was in his words “tossed off” the Audit and Finance Committee, cites other issues. “Fundraising has been an issue for the Audit and Finance Committee and I assume that appropriate reporting and accounting is being done. Correct?” he asked the superintendent in an email. In its conclusion, the policy states, “Advertising revenues must be properly reported and accounted for,” which Murray found too vague.

“If the District is going to allow advertising on fences, why not take it to the next step and have businesses bid on the naming rights for the school(s) much like what is done with athletic stadiums? There’s got to be a bundle of money for that opportunity,” Murray wrote with a bit of sarcasm.

He also, in a later telephone conversation, took Porter to task for not acknowledging Murray’s original request for the policy and providing the policy himself. “Under law, he has the obligation” to do these things unless he formally transfers that obligation to someone else. “That,” said the watchdog, “he has not done.”












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