Advertising on or in school buses? More funding sources sought

PUNXSUTAWNEY — As the state continues to cut funding to public schools, many districts are wondering what to do about funding for transportation.

The Punxsutawney Area School Board recently held a transportation committee meeting where school bus advertising was discussed as the new wave for funding transportation.

“We are currently looking into the possibility of having outside and inside advertising in a school bus which might be a way for Pennsylvania school districts to generate more funding for transportation,” said Tim Krise, president Krise Bus Service Inc., a subsidiary of Student Transportation of America (STA) Inc.

Krise said the City of Philadelphia recently approved an ordinance to allow advertising on school buses.

Advertising on school buses is not a statewide program, Krise said. He said there are five school districts in the state that have approved interior advertising on school buses for next year.

“I don’t know how effective that would be here in a rural area like ours,” he said. “In other areas, districts are combining with other districts or through the School Bus Association to increase revenue through advertising on school buses.”

Krise said typically, the school bus company and the school district would split the revenue 50/50 for the privilege of advertising on a bus’ interior. Outer advertising is not permitted at this time in Pennsylvania.

“I’m not suggesting that we do this next year or down the road, but it could be tied in with other school districts to do a national advertising campaign,” Krise said, adding that he just received the information on bus advertising.

“It’s quite extensive what this company (Alpha Media) is going to do regarding advertising on buses and what it charges for some of the ads,” he said. “Obviously, in more populated areas, I could see where it could be beneficial.”

Krise said personally he doesn’t like how the ads look on the bottom of a bus.

“We already have motorists hitting the sides and backs of buses,” he said. “If we put ads on the exterior of our buses, it could distract a driver from paying attention to their top priority of watching the school bus and what is happening on the road ahead of them.”

The district would be very selective on what kind of advertising that would be permitted on a school bus, Krise said.

“Philadelphia is leading the way regarding school bus advertising, and it could happen statewide once it is approved by a large district,” he said.

Some large school districts could stand to make $450,000 per year.

Krise said another change that could be coming soon is a change in the wiretap act, which has prevented school districts from recording students’ conversations on school buses.

“We’re in favor of it and pushing hard for a change along with other school bus companies,” he said.

Committee Chairman Jack White said it’s up in the air as to how school busing will be funded by the state, and perhaps some buses could be eliminated.

Krise said all districts are in the same boat, as the future of the state reimbursement is unknown at this time.

“If the district were to cut a bus or two, those students have to get on another bus, which would increase our mileage on that bus in the district and our student counts,” he said.

Transportation Director Cheryl Repik said from what the district has heard from the state, the amount of money will be the same as the 2010-11 school year and a little bit more.

“If that actually happens, you can save money by cutting buses,” she said. “If that doesn’t happen, and you still have to fill out reports for reimbursement, then you won’t save any money.”

Repik said if the district wanted to change dismissal times, it would be a major change, because currently, the bus runs are 20 minutes apart.

“If we were to change our afternoon dismissals, it would be by an hour, which has been controversial in the past,” she said.

Krise said if reimbursement goes away, and the district was going to receive a lump sum, he could change some buses from 72 passenger to 65 passenger buses, which would save on fuel.

Repik said if the district is approved by the state for its transportation grant, it will pay only $400,000.

“Until we know what the state is doing about our grant, we’re in limbo for next year,” Repik said.

In other business:

• The committee discussed the future of running buses on natural gas.

Board President Gary Conrad said the gas industry is pushing for it, so it will happen sometime in the future.

Krise said the cost of conversion to natural gas for a school bus would be high.

“We’re not opposed to natural gas, especially the way the price of fuel has been in the past year,” he said.

Bob Koban, operations manager for Tri-County Transportation, the district’s second carrier, said the pressure to convert to natural gas comes off whenever fuel prices start to go down again.

Repik said the fuel bids for the next school year for a fixed rate will be opened June 25, with the board deciding on the vendors at its June 27 meeting.

Conrad said this past school year has been quiet with few complaints, if any, about transportation.

Repik said the public has gotten used to the shuttle bus concept, which was controversial when it first began.