The Parkland School Board was prepared to vote Tuesday night on what turned out to be a controversial proposal to sell ad space inside the district's school buses, and wound up tabling the matter on a 5-3 vote.
The board's vote sends the initiative, which would have set up an ad review committee and established a contract with an ad design agency, back to the board's Building and Grounds Committee.
Superintendent Richard Sniscak said the initiative's future is uncertain -- the committee could futher discuss it and send it back to the full board for a vote or the initiative could wither there.
The Building and Grounds committee had recommended the board enter a contract with The Factory advertising design company in Schnecksville, which would have solicited ads for the inside of the district's school buses, at the inside roof line.
Two residents spoke against the plan.
"What type of lesson is that, to say if you have the money, you can have accesses to our children's minds," said Upper Macungie resident Andrew Bench, a 2002 Parkland graduate and former captain of the high school debate team. "While that message is promoted every day in our commercial world, it should not be the goal of great public institutions like this school district."
The bus ads initiative grew from the district's attempts to find creative ways to deal with its financial challenges. Last year, in the face of funding cuts and lower property assessments, the district eliminated 60 positions, froze administrators' salaries and raised taxes 3.8 percent to balance the budget for the current school year.
As fiscal challenges continue, officials say the district is again looking at potential layoffs and program cuts in the 2012-2013 school year.
In these difficult economic times, Sniscak said at the meeting, the district is forced to make unpopular decisions. He said the district looks for a "sensible" approach to raising revenue, as it balances its educational programs and the potential burden on taxpayers.
Under the agreement that board was to consider, The Factory's commission would be 25 percent of the cost of the ad, and Parkland would receive 75 percent. Sniscak said the ads could bring in up to $150,000.
The ad company would develop ads geared toward health, nutrition, higher education and safety, district officials have said.
"While this sound reasonable in theory," Branch said, "I caution that reality is much more difficult. "For instance, will the district allow advertisements for gyms? They may promote health, but what do they say to the 10th grader dealing with body issue problems.
"Or, what does the placard for Lafayette College say to the student who doesn't have the grades to go there? Who would or would not be allowed to advertise becomes innately political and innately contentious."
Also concerned about the initiative was resident David Parsons, who questioned the controls that would be used to assure appropriate ads.
Under the proposal, 10 people would serve on a committee that would give the thumbs up or thumbs down to an advertisement.
Serving on the committee would be:
- Assistant Superintendent Rod Troutman
- Assistant to the Superintendent of Operations Tracy Smith
- Director of Community Relations Nicole McGalla
- Garage Foreman Val Strock
- One elementary principal
- One secondary principal
- A member of the Community Advisory Committee
- A teacher
- An elementary parent
Before board member Roberta Marcus moved to table the vote, board president Jayne Bartlett, who favored the agreement, said she had faith in the administration to do what's right for the district's children.
Board member Robert Cohen, however, said he planned to vote against the proposed agreement between the district and the ad design agency because he saw advertising in schools as potentially insidious. He said he questioned what would come next.