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Poster children: Council authorizes ads on schools

A bill promising to bring in millions of dollars in advertising revenue for the School District of Philadelphia made strides yesterday when it cleared its first hurdle in City Council.

Introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the "Philadelphia Advertising on School Property" bill would allow for placement of commercial advertisements on school district buildings as a means of generating major dividends for the school district.

"In L.A., Nike picked up the tab for a (sports) field. That's huge," said Brown. "It's a win-win on all sides and it goes way beyond Coca-Cola on a scoreboard. New York made $5.9 million just on their (school) transportation fleet, alone. Imagine how many counselors that buys back, how many school nurses that buys back and how many arts and culture programs they could reinstitute."

Language in the bill explains that displays on school buildings could remain in place for six months or longer. Ads featuring alcohol or tobacco products, however, would be prohibited, along with anything on property with historic value. It would also require consideration and approval from the School Reform Commission.

School District of Philadelphia Chief Operating Officer Fran Burns testified before the Rules Committee yesterday in support of the proposal.

"While we remain impartial as to how revenue is generated, we acknowledge this idea as a way to generate income from non-tax revenue," she said. "The school district will be supportive and cooperative in fully exploring the possibilities presented through this bill."

One opponent of the bill, though, said that such advertising would only add to the onslaught of profit-making messaging kids see everyday.

"At what point does the visual assault of endless clutter of commercial advertising stop and where is there going to be a safe harbor for our kids?" asked Councilman Dennis M. O'Brien. "I think we need to try to identify the consequences. This is very, very special venue for our youngest people I think when we push that water balloon down, we better know every unintended result before we do something like this."

If passed, Brown said Philadelphia's would join a large number of school districts around the country that are experimenting with this, including those in New York, San Diego, Houston and Salt Lake City.

"We have suffered from – and I do mean suffered – through a $305 million budget deficit, and we don't see any clear, positive signals that that's going to change in the short-run," said Brown.

"I intend to babysit this process, much in the way I did the children's fund in my first term. I plan to work with the School Reform Commission, who I believe should have the ultimate veto power, but I'm going to be deeply and intimately engrossed in that entire process."