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A Modest Proposal for More School Partnerships

Ohanian Comment: Cautionary Note: The home of the Houston Astros was renamed Enron Field in 2000, when Enron bought naming rights for $100 million; then came the scandal in 2001, and in February 2002 the field was renamed Astros Field. Four months later Minute Maid bought the naming rights to the stadium for 28 years at an estimated price of $170 million (Wikipedia).

How would you like to hold the Ken Lay Chair in Economics? (University of Missouri-Columbia) Lay paid $1.1 million for the endowment in 1999.

Brown University hosts the A. Alfred Taubman Center for the Study of Public Policy and American Institutions. When Mr. Taubman, a former chairman of the auction house Sotheby's was incarcerated after his conviction for price-fixing, the university told the Christian Science Monitor that he gave Brown the money for the center in 1984, when he was a real estate developer in Michigan. "The university has no plans to change the name," says Mark Nikel, a spokesman. "It represents a forward-thinking kind of center."

by A. Taxpayer

In the face of funding which hasn't kept pace with inflation since the great belt-tightening of the 1990s, the "natural solution" for the public education system may be for schools to seek corporate "partners" or "donors" in return for such favours as re-naming facilities or other forms of stealth advertising. This kind of benevolent identity theft is all for a good cause, of course. It is, as we are constantly assured by the media, by the low-tax crusaders and by the tough-love politicians, a "win-win deal".

After all, we've already started down the path of "partnering" our schools, so it would be impossible to go back now, right? For example, a Toronto School accepted a $50,000 "donation" in equipment from Future Shop in exchange for naming rights, Future Shop's colours, and a plaque in honour of the benefactor.

Also, in the new spirit of partnership, the Toronto District School Board has recently had a tough time saying no to free video screens which would grace the school's halls while broadcasting 30% advertising. Four Toronto schools have already signed on to the partnership.

In Barrie, Central Collegiate was facing closure due to under-enrollment until Georgian Pontiac offered its assistance as a partner in setting up a sports facility with sponsorship rights.

This isn't going to be just a one-time deal, for "Partners will also be sought as the board starts developing its plans to build a south-end school." It would seem now that "The board wants to get the word out that it's open for business..."

Although selling advertising space and lowering my taxes by seeking more "partners in the community" will indeed help to make today's schools "economically viable", I simply would like to caution people that once we go down this slippery slope, there is no going back.

Thus, we need to think very carefully before we dive into any long-term commitments.

After all, students represent a captive audience. When kids receive an advertising message in school, they can't just change the channel. Also, they are young and impressionable. And it isn't like we'd just be selling off portions of their young and impressionable brand allegiance to advertisers with the full endorsement of educational institutions behind them. We'd also be farming them to potential employers. As the CEO of Acuity Insurance explains, "We're investing in the 5-year-olds who, two decades from now, may start working here. . . We're using naming rights to recruit employees over decades." When looked at in this light we can see that our children are indeed our most precious asset, so let's not sell them short. They should be able to command top dollar.

To this end, I would suggest that Ontario's school system should be taking a closer look at American partnerships in order to get a fairer idea of what our kids can fetch in today's educational marketplace. For instance, in Wisconsin, which is on the leading edge of public service cuts and corporate tax reductions, we find that the city of Sheboygan has made some of the following deals: "Acuity Insurance field houses: $650,000"; "Aurora Health Care cardiovascular (workout) rooms: $400,000"; "Sheboygan Orthopaedic Associates locker rooms: $45,000"; "Associated Bank school stores: $60,000"; "Richard Bemis Foundation gyms: $300,000". The local Kohler Union bought the names of two kitchens for $45,000 and "the cafeterias are up for grabs for $300,000."

To continue our cross-border shopping we find that in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a high school offers "naming rights to the principal's office for $10,000, the auditorium for $100,000 and English classrooms for $5,000 each."

At one school in Florida naming rights are getting $750,000 for the school's new science exploration centre. A plaque at the entrance of a school campus wing, library or nature trail fetches $500,000. And $3,600 attaches your identity to a teacher planning room.

Elsewhere we find, "CareFlight Field" sponsored for a whopping $1.9 million by Miami Valley Hospital. "ShopRite at Brooklawn Center gymnasium" received $100,000 from ShopRite Supermarkets. "InPro Commons Area" at Ronald Reagan Elementary School raked in $150,000 from InPro Corporation, and the "Tennessee Credit Union Academy of Business and Finance" at Antioch High School in Nashville paid $150,000. The "Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center" in Washington received an impressive half million dollars from its sponsor.

Perhaps it is time for us also to consider other, innovative solutions to funding shortfalls, such as selling advertising on tests. As the now infamous teacher behind this scheme put it, "Tough times call for tough actions." It turns out that his budget didn't have enough money for all the pre-testing he wanted to do to ensure his kids performed well on the Advanced Placement Exam, (which quite possibly is being used to determine his pay or job security). In case you're interested, his rates are quite reasonable at $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

We all know that "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," but would our public education system? I would argue that with new names everywhere in our schools, public education can be made to smell sweeter than ever, especially to our taxpayers, politicians and corporate executives. But why stop at just schools when we could probably get a lot more for the boards of education or perhaps even the ministry, politicians and agencies? Imagine how much these kinds of headlines would be worth to today's biggest education saviours: "The Microsoft Minister of Education announced today that in order to reduce taxes there would be further spending cuts to the Pearson Learning Inc. Department of Education, but, according to both the McGraw-Hill Testing Agency and the Rupert Murdoch Office of Inspection, there would be no noticeable loss of quality."

Gotta love the ring of that!

— A. Taxpayer




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