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Hempfield may be first to have ads in school buses

| Wednesday, March 9, 2005

If Hempfield Area School District gives a White Oak advertising agency the OK to place advertisements inside school buses, the district will be the first in the state to do so.

InSight Media President Brian Ungar acknowledged his firm has pitched the idea to at least 42 Pennsylvania school districts, all to no avail. But he remains optimistic that once just one district signs on, the others will quickly climb aboard.

"There are school districts out there that are very interested, that are taking a wait-and-see approach," Ungar said. "We feel that once they see one (school district) receiving revenues, it will snowball."

Districts would receive 40 percent of advertising revenues from the venture, Ungar said. He estimated Hempfield's share in its first year would range from $40,000 to $80,000, with maximum revenues of $140,000 if ads could be placed in all 70 of the district's buses.

The 11-by-25-inch vinyl advertisements would be installed above the windows of school buses. Content would be "clean, wholesome and educational," Ungar said.

Ungar counts colleges, universities and trade schools among his potential clients, as well as "appropriate retail."

Retail ads that might be considered appropriate, Ungar said, could include messages such as 'stay in school' or 'character counts,' with an accompanying reference to the name of the company that paid for the ad.

The school district would have the final say on what it considers appropriate, Ungar said.

"They will review each ad," he said. "If they like it, it goes up. If not, they can veto it."

Ungar first approached Hempfield directors last week during a buildings and grounds-transportation committee meeting. The board was to vote on the proposal Monday, but directors tabled it pending further review.

Some directors want to see whether any other companies in Pennsylvania offer the same service, but none do, according to Ungar and the owner of a Florida company that also sells school-bus advertising.

David Hill, vice president of School Bus Media, of Miami, said his company is the first in the nation to put ads inside school buses. His Miami-based firm is not associated with Ungar's company.

Hill started in the business four years ago and currently has two school districts under contract, Dade and Palm Beach counties, for a total of 2,200 buses. Persuading educators to permit advertising inside school buses was not an easy task, Hill acknowledged.

"But after you educate them on what you are doing and how you go about getting advertisers, they soften up on the idea, especially when it's of monetary value to them," Hill said.

Two of Hempfield's directors, Betty Valerio and Maria DiPiazza, said they might ultimately favor the idea because of its potential to generate additional revenue without raising taxes.

"If it's a money thing that's going to help us in a crunch, I didn't see a problem with it, until the men decided we need to do more research, which I think is a good idea," Valerio said, referring to directors who on Monday pushed to table the request until more information is gathered.

Director Louis DePaul said he wants a policy to be established before any action is taken.

"There's advertising in the schools now, but this is a pretty big step forward, and we need to be cautious about it," he said.

DePaul said various professionals should be consulted to gauge how different forms of advertising affect children and to determine what types might be considered beneficial. He also said he wants to hear from parents and teachers.

Ungar wouldn't identify the other school districts he has approached, but at least two in Allegheny County -- South Fayette and Montour -- previously acknowledged having heard from InSight Media. Neither signed on to the proposal.

"There was a lot of mixed reaction," said Charles Snowden, president of the Montour School Board. "We never reached a consensus of the board to move forward, so it never even went for a vote."

Scott Shewell, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said no districts have approached his agency for advice or assistance in working out contracts with advertising firms to place ads on school buses.

Ungar said initial reaction to his proposal is typically negative, but he feels that naysayers can be won over.

"We realize advertising to young minds is very controversial," Ungar said. "However, what I've noticed is that after I explained the program and the types of ads we are going after, people are a lot more accepting of it."

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