New Trier looking at sponsorship policy
Updated: February 27, 2012 8:39AM
Faced with shrinking revenue and looming capital improvements, the New Trier Township District 203 School Board is considering loosening its restrictions on sponsorships and advertising on school property.
“It is something . . . we should give attention to and give attention to fairly quickly,” New Trier Township High School Board member Alan Dolinko said.
“We have student alums who could write a big check at some point,” Dolinko said at last week’s Board meeting.
Fellow Board member Carol Ducommun agreed the School Board should discuss the issue before someone comes forward and offers a big donation, “as opposed to crafting the policy to fit the request.”
The Board members agreed to form a committee to review the issue.
Members of the New Trier Booster Club, which hopes to raise $1 million to help pay for the installation of synthetic turf at the stadium and practice field on the Northfield campus, said they would like to sell paving bricks and perhaps plaques to recognize people who contribute to the project.
The school district’s policy on recognition of donors, corporate sponsorships and advertising has been revised over the years, most recently in 2010. It currently states, “No naming opportunities will be associated with donations.”
District 203 Superintendent Linda Yonke, who served on the committees that reviewed the policy in 2008 and in 2010, explained the members’ reasoning:
“While the committee did not wish to discourage donations, they strongly wished to avoid having those donations create any sense of impropriety or conflict of interests for students whose families were making those donations, or by vendors who might be submitting bids or seeking contracts with the district.”
Naming parts of school buildings or facilities is reserved for employees who have made “a significant contribution to New Trier.”
The policy also states the “Board of Education is philosophically opposed to the placement of any advertisement on school district facilities or grounds” by a private company, but allows the possibility by requiring the School Board and the superintendent to approve such an arrangement.
“The economics of the world are very different than they were just four or five years ago,” Dolinko said. “Thinking about alternate revenue sources is something we have to do seriously.”
In weighing the pros and cons of its policy, Yonke said if people could expect their large donation would be recognized by naming a program or facility in their honor, it could increase the number and amount of donations.
Some people may believe if an individual truly wants to give money to benefit the school or the students, they should be willing to do it anonymously. But School Board President John Myefski said, “It’s not the world we live in. It’s not been the world we live in for a long time.”
Myefski said he was excited the School Board was open to considering accepting corporate sponsorships and donor name recognition.
“It’s a big opportunity for New Trier that has been lost for a long period of time.”
Both he and School Board member Lori Goldstein were not concerned about conflicts of interest either occurring or being suspected.
“We could carve out the conflicts of interest,” Goldstein said.
Myefski said he believes the New Trier faculty would be above giving preferential treatment to a student whose family made a large contribution to the school.
Goldstein said she is open to the idea of selling advertising at the school, too.
Board member Patrick O’Donoghue said, “I don’t think we should completely exclude advertising,” but whether he supported a particular ad sale would depend on where and how the advertising would be displayed.
“We have to tread carefully,” Ducommun said. She wondered whether accepting advertising dollars might limit “academic freedom.” Would teachers hesitate to criticize someone or something in their classroom if they were an advertiser, she asked.
Yonke reported the district administrators had “a lengthy discussion” about the advertising policy and were unanimously opposed to changing it.
“There is a realistic recognition of the ever-present nature of advertising in students’ lives, but there is a parallel hope that the school can remain free of the influence of advertising,” Yonke reported to the Board.
School Board member F. Malcolm Harris agreed with that stance.
“I don’t think that we should subject our students to a bombardment of advertising,” Harris said. “They’re subjected to enough of that outside of school and who knows what they get on their phones during school.”
Yonke said one advantage of advertising revenue is it could be ongoing, but it might not be substantial.
When she heard what other school districts receive in advertising fees, “I was surprised how small it was,” Yonke said. “That’s for you to decide, is it worth it,” she told the School Board.