School Bus Ads Bring Additional Revenue to Districts

By Brenda Flanagan

Don’t think big TV show ads splashed over a crosstown bus. It’s more The Lawn Ranger. School bus ads tend toward the un-dramatic.

“We’re not in the city trying to advertise musicals,” said Jackson Superintendent Stephen Genco.

Genco says Jackson plastered ads on the side of 41 school buses to raise some dough with Rosko’s Bagels & Waffles, Thomas Edison State College and other clients. All told, the district made $23,000 last year. And the state regulates what kinds of ads are appropriate.

“You balance the positives of gaining some extra dollars that you can move towards educational means and get back into the students’ hands. But you don’t want to be advertising something that you wouldn’t want your children to use,” Genco said.

“We’ve done an incredible amount of sales right now. This January has been record sales. I’ve been installing advertisers on buses pretty much every week. It’s been booming right now,” said Jack Calkin.

Calkin heads — a non-profit that single-handedly implements ad agreements for some 20 school districts across New Jersey.

“We’re pretty much the only one in New Jersey that offers school bus advertising right now,” Calkin said.

Calkin says the ad idea gained traction slowly, but as the agency advertised, districts took notice. Some — like Jackson — make decent money, but there’s no guarantee. In some districts, it’s a hard sell.

“The advertisers didn’t want be on those. They wanted to be on Jackson buses, they wanted to be on Toms River buses and Washington Township. There’s certain high-traffic buses they wanted to be on. High exposure buses,” Calkin said.

That doesn’t daunt Sayreville’s superintendent who wants to raise $60,000 with school bus ads. Richard Labbe says, “Basically, we are trying to think ‘out of the box’ so that we can provide tax relief to our community and also provide the essential resources and tools that we will need to promote the most positive outcomes for our students by raising miscellaneous revenue and reducing costs for major expenditure items, such as energy.”

We asked Sayreville taxpayers how they’d feel about ads on school buses.

“It’s a good idea, a very good idea to put it on the school buses,” said Andy Giannetto. “Keep our taxes as little as down. … I’m retired, so I know what taxes are.”

“I just feel it’s the wrong way to go. I can’t tell you what bothers me too much about it, but it just doesn’t feel right,” said Eddie Dill.

Not everyone supports the concept of ads on school buses. Though some critics call kids captive audiences.

“That’s one of the reasons advertisers like to advertise on school buses and in schools is because they get kids who aren’t able to change the channel,” said Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Associate Director Josh Golin. “Anything that’s advertised on a school bus is gonna come with the school’s endorsement — and that’s a very powerful endorsement.”

But Genco wants business to keep booming.

“Twenty thousand dollars might not sound like a lot now, but if we’re talking $70,000, $80,000, $100,000 later, yeah, it’s worth it. That’s a couple teachers,” he said.

As New Jersey school districts get to work on next year’s budget, they’ll be scrambling for dollars and for some, filling this space will help fill a revenue gap.