Sponsor pauses on bill to sell ads at Phila. schools

Blondell Reynolds Brown
Blondell Reynolds Brown
Posted: December 18, 2013

After getting swamped with e-mails and Facebook messages raising concerns about her plan to allow advertising at Philadelphia schools, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has hit the "pause" button."

Last week, at the final Council meeting before the winter break, Brown did not call for a vote on her bill, which would make the necessary zoning changes to allow ads on school property.

Brown said she was willing "to slow-walk" her proposal once Council returns Jan. 23, but said she was no less committed to seeing the bill through.

"What we know is that public funding is no longer adequately funding public education," she said Monday. "I'm not prepared to sit and do nothing, because you get criticized for that as well."

The idea of selling ads in public schools has percolated for years, and mirrors a proposal recently championed by Council President Darrell L. Clarke to sell ads on city property.

Both have touted advertising as a way to generate steady revenue without raising taxes. Brown, in a hearing on her bill this month, envisioned "a West Philadelphia football field paid for by Nike."

She noted that school districts around the country have taken up the idea. It has been floated here before - in 2004, the district considered selling naming rights to the High School of the Future, built jointly with Microsoft Corp.

Opponents have raised concerns with Brown, particularly about the type of ads and about placing them inside schools. The bill would not prohibit alcohol and cigarette ads or billboards on historic buildings.

The School Reform Commission would decide whether to sell ads and could set tougher standards. At last week's hearing, the district's chief operating officer, Fran Burns, was noncommittal, saying passage of Brown's bill "does not guarantee execution."

Brown said she was considering beefing up the bill, such as creating a parents' advisory panel. She disagreed that ads should be kept out of schools, since, she said, students already "are bombarded with advertising."

"We can babysit a process where we select the kind of advertisement our kids are exposed to," she said.

The Nutter administration also offered amendments last week that Brown said she needed time to consider.

She said she also wants to make sure her bill does not contradict one sponsored by Councilman Bobby Henon to regulate outdoor advertising. That, too, was held back from a vote last week.

Some critics of Brown's bill have noted the revenue generated would barely dent the district's deficit, which this year hit $304 million.

"So, what's the alternative?" Brown said. "Doing nothing. Let's go after the $5 or $6 million that we get."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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