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NWA editorial: Passing thoughts

Should school district adopt advertising on buses? by NWA Democrat-Gazette | February 25, 2016 at 1:00 a.m.

School buses -- that's where the line must be drawn to control the impact advertising has on kids.

It's not the big bank or soda ads on the high school football stadium's scoreboard, or the banner hanging from the bleachers promoting a branch of the military. It's not the multitude of banners surrounding the playing field.

What’s the point?

Whether to allow ads on the sides of buses in the Bentonville School District or others probably boils down to this: How much impact can the revenue have on the district’s mission?

It's not the bottled water, chocolate or -- egad! -- CPA firm ads blanketing the wall of the basketball arena or the car dealership just under the scoreboard everyone glances at dozens of times during every game.

No, those are appropriate. But put an ad on a bus -- on the outside of a bus -- and we're corrupting a generation.

That appears to be one of the concerns as Bentonville tip-toes into the water on the issue of bus ads.

The Arkansas General Assembly approved House Bill 1495 last year, becoming the 10th state in the nation to allow advertising on the exterior of school buses. State Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, proposed the measure to give school districts the option as a source of revenue. It does not mandate ads, but allows local school boards to make their own decisions.

State rules limit the ads to the exterior, behind the rear wheels of the bus. The ads can be no larger than 30 inches tall and 60 inches long.

In vendor-rich Bentonville, there's little doubt ads could be sold -- promoting a product or service while helping out the local school district is one of those win-wins companies love -- but the estimates of how much money it would raise for the district remain uncertain. Superintendent Mike Poore has suggested the move could generate revenue in the six figures. Others are skeptical.

Given the ad-filled nature of other school district facilities -- primarily the athletic varieties -- it's hard to get into too much of a lather about ads on the exterior of buses, targeting all those eyes of motorists and pedestrians more so than the student body. The case that such ads will improperly influence young consumers seems a stretch, especially given the district's all-too-willing approach to advertisements at football fields and basketball arenas.

The ads aren't going to be harmful, especially if policies ensure certain businesses won't get the chance to promote themselves on buses. Nobody needs to see bus ads for Club Hots just across the border in Jane, Mo.

Other arguments may carry the day. Will ads on buses look tacky? More than likely.

Are they likely to cause dangerous distractions to drivers that could endanger students? It's hard to imagine that. Buses will still have all the usual safety equipment such as flashing lights, stop signs that pop out when the bus is picking up or dropping off children and the like.

Bentonville, of all school districts, knows how to pay for things with money from sponsorships and from donors.

We're glad the state saw to it that local school boards get to make this decision.

The question probably boils down to this: Will the amount of revenue be enough to overcome some of the discomfort such ads create? Will the money realized help the school district with its mission enough for it to be worthwhile?

If so, it's hard to turn it away.

For those concerned about the negative influence of ads, perhaps a little reality is in order. Most of those students see marketing materials more through their smart phones in a couple of hours than they would see all year long on the sides of buses.

Still, the issue isn't just whether to do it, but to determine how much benefit there is to the school district and those it serves. If it's only a few dollars a year, leave those big yellow vehicles alone.

If it's big dollars that can have an impact on education, just get on the bus, Gus.

Commentary on 02/25/2016

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