School buses are carrying more than students these days.
The vehicles sport fancy advertisements for local businesses and events.
It's part of the effort for school districts to make money in these budget-strapped times.
And it is paying off.
Lewis-Palmer School District 38 made about $8,000 in its first effort last year with eight advertisers and 11 buses. This year, it is expanding.
"Ultimately we hope to have advertisements on every bus to maximize our income," said Robin Adair, D-38 spokeswoman. The district, which has had $11 million in cuts in recent years, is seeking a $4.5 tax increase in the November election.
D-38 has 56 buses that collectively travel more than a half million miles a year. That could be a lot of bang for the advertising buck, and a nice amount of change for district coffers. Like Lewis-Palmer, most districts that allow advertising on their buses choose to put the money in general funds to help with such things as higher fuel and utility expenses and increased contributions to pension funds and student activities.
Other Pikes Peak districts that use their buses as rolling billboards are Colorado Springs School District 11 and Falcon School District 49.
Some of the advertisements on Lewis-Palmer buses include dentists, restaurants, insurance agents, a gymnasium, PTA's and the district's own programs.
A.B. Tellez, owner of Rosie's Diner in Monument, said he signed up for two buses, one middle school that features kid's meals and shakes, and an elementary bus that features, of course, chicken nuggets.
"Those buses drive everywhere. It's awesome marketing. But there is more to it than that.
"It's being part of the communty, 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."
The districts report that the ads are approved by administrators before they are placed on the buses. There are none inside the buses to entice kids. The products must be child friendly - no alcohol, tobacco, gaming or distasteful subjects. They don't usually allow advertising from other schools that might compete with them for students.
Colorado in 1997 was the first state to allow school-bus advertising,
Some officials fear it might distract drivers, but there have been no studies suggesting that. New Mexico, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Tennessee allow it inside and out. Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Texas and Utah allow it on the exterior. Ads are allowed only on the interior on school buses in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to a 2012 report by national Conference of State Legislatures. Other states have no policies.
Some critics of the D-11 ads have said that they "junk up the buses," said Devra Ashby, D-11 spokeswoman. "It's a viable way to generate income."
Some schools also make money selling ads for their websites, sports stadium walls, yearbooks and other such venues. But buses are unique.
The ads can be seen by even larger numbers of people. Advertisers can choose to run their ads only on certain bus routes to ensure coverage in certain neighborhoods and audiences, said Leigh Howe, of Brilliant Outdoor Media. She works with 14 school districts statewide, including Jeffco Public Schools, Denver, Durango, Cherry Creek, D-38, D-11 and others.
She calls on advertisers, picking those that would ensure appropriate images. The districts pay to have the ads created, and Brilliant prints and installs the ads.
D-11, one of the first in the nation to have bus advertisements, made more than $15,000 last year, said LouAnnDekleva, head of volunteer services and community partnerships. Some of the advertisers included a window installation company, credit union, gymnastics facility and restaurants.
Dekleva said that when the district started taking ads it tried to do all the work in-house, but it was too labor intensive, so they hired Howe. They had ads on 45 buses last year, out of the 130 in the D-11 fleet that travelled more than 1.1 million miles.
Falcon D-49 made about $4,500 last year with ads on five buses. Sponsors included a bank, day care, dentists and PTA. The district, with a fleet that covers more than 680,000 miles a year, wants to expand the advertising program. "There is a lot of potential," said Stephanie Wurtz, D-49 spokeswoman.
"It's a win-win situation, said David Hamula, a Monument area orthodontist. "The schools get monies for things and we get noticed. Most of our patients are fourth through ninth grade, so we chose areas where there are elementary and middle schools."
His office is near a school, and many passersby see his office sign every day. So he chose to have his ads on buses that are in other neighborhoods.
"Some people have said they saw my ad on the bus. But I think what is most important is that it shows we are part of the community and willing to help schools."
Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw