Matt Gade, Deseret News
FARMINGTON — Students in Davis School District may soon have some company on their commute to and from school in the form of paid advertisements adorning the yellow buses.
The school district has partnered with advertising firm Alpha Media and is in the process of seeking interested businesses to buy ad space to boost district revenue.
"Anything we can do to help fund the transportation department keeps funds in the schools and in the education process," said Brian Larsen, district transportation director.
Davis is the second school district in the state to use bus advertising, a relatively new trend that is gaining popularity nationwide as a risk-free revenue source for cash-strapped school districts.
Michael Beauchamp, president and CEO of Alpha Media, said his company first began partnering with school districts to sell bus advertisements in 2008. In the past five years, demand has grown steadily as school officials and lawmakers take note of the program's successes, he said.
School districts have ultimate approval of any potential advertisers, Beauchamp said, and the districts keep roughly 63 percent of the sales revenue.
"The district is responsible for nothing," he said. "There’s no cost to them. There’s no risk for them. We take care of it all. It’s a great situation for districts with dwindling budgets."
Utah's entrance into the school bus advertising market began in 2011 when a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, was signed into law. The law allows for 35 percent of a bus' total area to be covered by ads and includes prohibitions on types of advertising unfit for children, such as alcohol and tobacco sales, political campaigns, religions or any sexual material.
Jordan School District was the first to take advantage of the new law, partnering with Alpha Media to roll out its first ad-emblazoned buses in April 2012. At the time, the Jordan School Board projected the advertisements would bring in $1.3 million in revenue over four years.
Jordan district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said that after one year, the advertisements have brought in about $40,000. Though that figure is lower than the original projections, it has allowed officials to offset transportation costs and free up funds for academic programs, she said.
"We are underfunded in transportation by the state," Riesgraf said. "Anytime we can offset those costs and put more money back into the school district in a different area, every little bit helps."
She said half of the district's bus fleet features advertising, and an additional 60 ads are scheduled to be placed this weekend.
Larsen said Davis School District expects to earn $200,000 this first year through advertisements and a little more than $1 million cumulatively over the next four years.
He said the annual home-to-school transportation budget is roughly $8.5 million, meaning the advertisements are not intended to fully fund transportation in the district, but rather mitigate the academic dollars lost to busing costs.
"The rest comes out of books and classrooms, so anything we can do to subsidize transportation keeps that money for teachers and students," Larsen said.
Bird said he was motivated to run the original bill as a way to get more money into schools without raising taxes. He said he's pleased to see another district taking advantage of the law and hopes other districts will consider the benefits of bus advertising.
"I'm anxious to see this spread throughout the state," Bird said. "For the Jordan School District, it certainly has been successful."
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