Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Public schools will always struggle if they rely entirely on the tax base

The Gazette editorial Updated: August 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm

If you see an ad on a school bus, try doing business with the sponsor. Help reward and encourage a new and promising revenue stream for schools.

Colorado was the first state to allow school districts to sell advertising on buses. Lewis-Palmer School District 38 (Tri-Lakes) has emerged as one of the first districts in the country to enter the business. Colorado Springs District 11 and Falcon District 49 have also dabbled in selling bus ads, with plans to expand their business models.

Though critics complain the ads create unsightly clutter, one might counter that big yellow buses have never been known for beauty.

"Ultimately, we hope to have advertisements on every bus to maximize our income," said D-38 spokeswoman Robin Adair.

The district began selling ads on 11 buses last year and raised about $8,000. That's peanuts, given the expenses of a large school district, but successful expansion could grow revenues into something substantial - especially if businesses begin competing for space and bidding up prices.

D-38's 56 buses travel more than a half-million miles a year, mostly in plain view of consumers throughout the Tri-Lakes region. That's a lot of exposure to sell.

If and when the economy makes a strong recovery, school districts will continue hurting for years because of the lag effect endured by entities funded by property taxes.

"Those buses drive everywhere. It's awesome marketing, but there is more to it than that," said A.B. Tellez, owner of Rosie's Diner in Monument, in a Sunday story by Gazette reporter Carol McGraw.

"It's being part of the community, helping out the schools. They need funds. I thought it was neat to use dollars to support the community as well as the community supporting us."

A classic win-win arrangement.

The Gazette has long encouraged school officials to think like business owners, finding opportunities to generate more revenues through mutually beneficial transactions with the public. They should consider selling naming rights to football stadiums, science fairs, coliseums, auditoriums, parking lots, swimming pools and lunch rooms. Consider selling access to premium parking.

The all-tax-supported public school is an antiquated model that promises sustained impoverishment. Even taxpayers in the most generous and successful tax jurisdictions have limits. If eduction relies entirely on taxpayer funding, then educators can't progress to new levels - especially during extended economic stagnation. They will always be limited by what the tax base can afford. They will always work for too little and try to do more with less.

Commerce, by contrast, has fewer constraints. If a bus ad campaign helps an orthodontics clinic make more money, the business will be happy to pay for the ad. If more ads mean even greater profits, the business is happy to spend even more with the school. It's a sustainable model.

Growing taxes, by contrast, can smother businesses and families and jeopardize their ability to continue funding schools. Good business arrangements create wealth, which new taxes cannot do.

This is not to suggest that commercial arrangements, which partner schools with businesses, can or should overtake taxation as the primary source of public-school funding. For the foreseeable future, taxes will continue as the primary source of revenue for public education.

But commercial partnerships provide a positive and sustainable opportunity for growth, even when a tax base is not growing. Children deserve the best our schools can afford, so we applaud education leaders who embark on creative new commercial endeavors. District leaders who pursue mutual benefit, combining education with industry and commerce, will have more to spend on teachers and kids.

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