Keith Srakocic  /  AP
Brian Ungar, the founder of InSight Media, shows some prototype ads outside his office in White Oak, Pa. His company has solicited 42 school districts in western Pennsylvania to put advertisements inside school buses.
updated 3/7/2004 6:40:54 PM ET 2004-03-07T23:40:54

On the outside, school buses will be just as yellow as they’ve always been. But if Brian Ungar has his way, the insides will be filled with a dozen or more colorful advertisements promoting colleges, touting toothpaste and warning against using drugs.

Ungar, the founder of InSight Media of White Oak, Pa., has approached 42 area school districts about putting 11-by-25 inch vinyl advertisements above the windows inside school buses. School officials would have discretion over what ads are appropriate, and get as much as 40 percent of the gross revenue from the ads.

“They generate revenue through the advertising that could help offset operating costs and fund educational programs. We’re not talking about a little money, we’re talking about a lot of money, actually,” Ungar said. He would like to see about 15 ads per bus, each of which would cost about $30 a month.

Advertising in schools is not new, although the idea of putting ads in buses has gained momentum in only the last few years, said Jennifer Dounay, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States. Some states leave the decision on whether to allow bus ads up to individual districts. Others have state laws allowing it and mandating the ads be age-appropriate, according to an ECS report.

In Massachusetts, a 2002 law cleared the way for school-bus advertising, while prohibiting liquor, tobacco, drugs and gambling ads. The ads can be placed on the exterior of the buses, but can’t take up more than one-quarter of the bus.

A couple of districts there have placed ads on buses as a result. The Braintree district has a $30,000 contract with a restaurant chain, and the Beverly district made $36,000 last year by selling ad space to local businesses, including a health club and real estate companies.

Other school districts are pursuing the idea. The Boston school board voted late last year to put advertising on 620 buses, which could raise as much as $600,000.

Dr. Joseph Findley, acting superintendent of the Montour School District in suburban Pittsburgh, said the district heard a presentation from Ungar about his company, but no decision has been made. The district would get about $140,000 from such a deal, which is not a huge amount of money, he said.

“I think it’s just another vehicle for possibly coming up with revenues that are not gaining any other way,” said Findley. He said the board is considering Ungar’s proposal. “Nobody at this point in time is sold on this.”

Under Ungar’s company, school districts would assemble a review panel of two school board members and a parent representative that would proof the ads before any were posted on the buses.

“They have the veto power,” Ungar said.

'Already seeing advertising'
A similar model is used by School Bus Media Inc., a Miami-based company that puts public service announcements and advertisements on school buses. The 4-year-old company approached state and local governments to get approval to move ahead, said David Hill, the company’s vice president.

The company currently has about 400 public service announcements in about 120 school buses in northwestern Florida, he said. As with Ungar’s company, School Bus Media pays school districts part of the money they get from advertisers.

The company avoids liquor, condom, fast food and other advertisements deemed inappropriate for children. Hill said he has gotten some criticism, but he defends the placement of the ads.

“The child rides the bus 10 times a week. He’s going to and from school on the bus, all he has to do is look out (the window) and see advertising,” Hill said. “He’s already seeing advertising. He goes home and watches Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network.”

In western Pennsylvania, the Montour Taxpayers Organization, a school district watchdog group, doesn’t want children riding to school with ads. Even though parents and school officials would have a say in what is posted, it’s possible there would be disagreements over what is appropriate, said Michelle Bitner, the group’s president.

“We as parents feel our children are subjected to an enormous amount of advertising on a daily basis and one place to keep it out of is schools and school buses,” she said.

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