By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Justine Cunningham, Associated Chino Teachers
SpongeBob Elementary School? Hostess Twinkies Middle School? Wal-Mart Senior High?
None of these schools are real. But as districts throughout the state face mounting budget problems, officials are turning to corporate sponsors in hopes that advertisements will bring in extra dollars. For example, Chino Unified School District may place advertising on everything from lunch tray liners to floor mats to educational materials to assembly programs, as well as banners in hallways; and South Pasadena schools are encouraging Hollywood producers to film TV shows on district property.
Reaction to the commercialization trend among CTA members varies. Some worry that students will, in effect, become a captive advertising audience for corporate America to manipulate. Others welcome such help from private companies willing to assist public schools.
“They are considering this after cutting $32 million for the next three years in Chino, and they still have more to go,” says Justine Cunningham, president of Associated Chino Teachers (ACT). “I realize that the district needs to find ways to balance the budget. My concern is that children seem to be targeted everywhere; and school has always been a safe haven. When we use children to help balance the budget, it doesn’t seem right. They are affected enough with class sizes being raised, school site budget cuts, and the elimination of programs.”
“Right now it may seem like a good thing, but at a certain point, it’s going to be too much,” says Todd Hancock, an ACT member at Ayala High School. “I don’t mind advertisements on stadium scoreboards or even lunch trays. But I would not like to see them on classroom doors, hallways or fences because it’s too much pollution. And putting them on textbooks is not a good thing. There needs to be a definite distinction between schools and commercialism, because you don’t want companies and corporations controlling school districts. The next thing you know, they’ll be saying, ‘We gave your school $1 million and we expect you to do this and this for us.’”
In Santa Rosa, which cut $8 million and is expecting to cut another $5.6 million, school board members asserted their authority to reject inappropriate school naming rights and other advertisements. This includes selling space to alcohol and cigarette companies as well as religious and political organizations.
“We have not taken a position as an association,” says Santa Rosa Teachers Association President Dan Evans. “I have heard many concerns about the propriety of advertising private business at schools. It actually is now done at some of the high school fields. Given the safeguards and restrictions that have been made contingent with the district policy, I personally have no problem with the policy in these tight budget times.”
In Las Virgenes Unified School District, there has been talk of putting corporate names on panels covering ceiling lights inside the district office and in hallways, and putting advertisers’ names on electric signs outside the school. Officials are also talking about selling naming rights to school libraries, multipurpose rooms, gymnasiums and football fields. Parents will get the first opportunity for purchase, perhaps to memorialize family members, and such rights may expand to corporate sponsors and will be renewable.
“Every year they have been cutting our budget,” says Sandi Pope, president of the Las Virgenes Educators Association. “It’s sad to see commercialization of our schools, but if the state can’t fund schools, districts are forced to find their own funding sources. As long as it doesn’t interfere with instruction, more power to them. I’d rather see this happen than hear more talk about increasing class sizes, cutting jobs and cutting salaries.”
Unhappy parents in at least one school district were heard murmuring in the audience that school trustees were “pimping off” community schools in exchange for cash.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, based in Boston, strongly objects to advertising in schools. “Today, as never before, the lives of children are saturated with commercial marketing,” states the website. “Schools turn to marketers to alleviate financial woes, but many marketing activities generate little, if any, revenue. Students are harmed when schools promote corporate profits at the expense of children’s health and well-being. Schools should be a haven from commercialism.”