When Sahara Sam’s Oasis Water Park was looking for a creative way to advertise, school buses were a perfect fit.
“We absolutely got business from them,” said Chris Peters, director of marketing and public relations for the West Berlin park in Camden County, which has ads on 170 school buses around the state. “You’ll see a thousand billboards on I-95. This was something different, and I’d much rather give money to a school district that can put it to good use.”
Almost five years after New Jersey passed a law allowing advertising on school buses, the concept is still catching on slowly. But as state aid remains frozen, and tax levies are capped, more districts are considering it as a way to drive revenue.
This month, Vineland became the 23rd district to join a program run by the nonprofit Educational Information and Resource Center, which matches districts and advertisers and previews the ads in exchange for a percentage of the projects.
Helen G. Haley, Vineland School District business administrator, said they are trying to find creative and alternative sources of revenue each year as it becomes more difficult to balance the budget with flat funding of state aid. She said the Transportation and Finance Committees investigated and recommended the ads, and the school board approved them. She said they hope to generate about $10,000 this year.
“We are budgeting conservatively since this is our first year,” Haley said.
Ads come in two sizes with an annual cost of $720 per bus for a 2-by-6-foot ad and $520 per bus for a 2-by-4-foot ad, including printing and installation. EIRC keeps 35 percent of the ad revenue.
Only buses owned by school districts are eligible, and there are restrictions as to the size and location of the ads. Statewide, 277 districts own their own buses. School boards can reject any ad they deem inappropriate, and there can be no advertising that would promote gambling, tobacco or alcohol.
Not everyone is on board with the idea.
New Jersey is one of just 10 states that currently allow ads on school buses, said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. He said they oppose the ads, even if they are for something like a college, because they commercialize the school environment.
“The first thing a child will see each morning is an ad on their bus,” he said. “And it could appear that the school district is endorsing the ads.”