Should lunch tables be brought to you by Kraft? Should the school web site be splashed with an ad for the iPhone? And if ads come into schools, which companies are allowed and which are verboten?

San Diego Unified is weighing those questions as it stares down a budget crunch now estimated to slash roughly $93 million from its budget next school year. Chief District Relations Officer Bernie Rhinerson said that advertisements on the school district website could reap $100,000 annually and splashing ads on lunch tables or campus banners could bring in $500,000 for the high schools alone.

Selling ads in schools or on school websites was frequently proposed at the public budget forums that San Diego Unified held earlier this year. But the board is wary of selling out students. They agreed that the school district needs to first create a policy on which advertisements are allowed and where.

Board President Richard Barrera said he would balk at ads in elementary schools. Board member John Lee Evans said he could see giving corporations that donate to schools some recognition, the way that public radio does, but tilted towards making schools “a commercial-free zone.” And board member Katherine Nakamura jokingly drew the line at Chuck E. Cheese, saying, “I’ve done my time.”

Some of the most interesting comments came from the student representatives on the school board. La Jolla High student Vince Gumina called it “kind of dangerous territory,” but Joy Erika Diwa from Morse High pointed out that in the average high school, “We’re all walking billboards already.”

School district staff will take their feedback to put together a draft policy on how advertising in schools would work and how it would be limited. The school board took no action on Tuesday night.

“I’m all for getting revenue,” said school board member Shelia Jackson. “But we also need to be accountable for what we’re doing with the children.”


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