Schools mull sponsorships

The giant score clock with a Pepsi or Coca-Cola logo in the middle has long been a common sight in schools.

The giant score clock with a Pepsi or Coca-Cola logo in the middle has long been a common sight in schools.

A company sponsors the expensive clock’s purchase and in return the school allows its vending machines to sit in the hallways. Both parties enjoy the benefits.

But for the most part, schools have long been advertisement free — exposing children to corporate pitches is something no school division has been eager to do.

But now at least two Central Alberta school divisions are considering how they might open the doors of their schools to advertising and corporate sponsorship.

The boards of Chinook’s Edge and Wild Rose School Divisions both considered the topic at their May meetings, referring the matter to their policy committees for the development of guidelines.

While Chinook’s Edge board chair Colleen Butler said she would like to see “fairly rigid guidelines” around any corporate involvement, allowing advertising and sponsorship could provide a source of revenue the division covets.

“I think it’s just a sign of the times basically because funds are short and if you can get some money in another way to help with some of the programming and to help with some of the things that were needed, I guess we would look at that,” said Butler.

She suggested that if the right fit were found, ads could show up on the division’s buses, in its schools and around its playgrounds.

For the Wild Rose board, the preliminary conversation centred around just who it would accept money from, given the chance.

Chinook’s Edge has an existing administrative procedure pertaining to soliciting in schools that includes the division acknowledging “its responsibility to parents and to the schools to ensure that students and staff are not subjected as a captive audience to canvassing of a commercial, political or religious nature, in school or online.”

Another policy on naming of facilities or parts of the school building states that names that imply a divisional endorsement of a commercial product or service will not be approved. The paramount consideration during a naming opportunity, it says, will be whether it “enhances the profile and image of education in the division.”

An existing Wild Rose policy states that the division is an impartial body that will not encourage organizations attempting to sell or promote merchandise, services or ideologies in schools.

Clearview School Division is not considering inviting corporate sponsorship into its schools, but superintendent John Bailey said he would not be surprised if it came up in the near future.

In Red Deer, both the public and separate school divisions are wary of doing the same.

“In my opinion, it’s not a path we should be going down to be having to raise revenue by selling space or classrooms or that sort of thing. It’s the obligation of the province to support education and that’s where we would expect the funding to come from,” said Guy Pelletier, Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division board chair.

Aside from score clocks, he said the division has not considered allowing advertising in its schools.

Neither is the Red Deer Public School District looking at creating advertising opportunities.

The Alberta Teachers Association has crafted policies regarding educational/corporate partnerships, and has passed motions urging the provincial government to ban commercial advertising in schools and on school property, websites, and buses.

The ATA and other groups have also criticized Alberta Education for involving corporations such as Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy and Stantec in the provincial curriculum redesign process.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com