Legislation would allow color advertisements on school buses

Rick Wagner • Mar 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Color advertisements on public school buses soon may be legal in Tennessee.

No local systems are utilizing the currently legal black-and-white bus ads, although a Hawkins County school official said the idea has received some discussion there.

The Tennessee House voted 81-16 Thursday to allow school districts to sell color ads on school buses.

Under current law, school buses can carry only black-and-white advertising on their back panels.

“I’ve never seen a school bus from East Tennessee that’s had advertising on it,” said David Frye, director of finance for Kingsport City Schools. “That is not something that we have looked at. I don’t know if we would ever look at it or not.”

State Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, was the bill’s main House sponsor. Eldridge said allowing those advertisements to be made in color could raise an estimated $150,000 for his home county.

“We have never done that,” said Sarah Floyd, supervisor of transportation for the Hawkins County school system. “It has been discussed, but it never has been researched.”

Floyd said the Hawkins County Board of Education would have to approve the concept and possibly specific ads, depending on how bus ads were implemented.

“We’ve not talked about it,” said Dr. Randy Montgomery, a dentist who serves as vice president of the Kingsport Board of Education.

Kingsport BOE President Susan Lodal said support for the bill was strong in other parts of the state and could be considered someday in Kingsport, adding that some systems are looking to tap non-traditional revenue sources in tough economic times.

In the Sullivan County school system, most buses are owned and operated by private contractors except special education buses with handicapped access.

“I’ve never heard it discussed,” Sullivan County Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Betty Combs said.

The state Senate previously passed the measure on a 30-0 vote, but it would have to agree to a House change that prohibits advertising food items that aren’t allowed to be sold in schools before the bill could head for the governor’s consideration.

The amendment “prohibits commercial advertising on school buses from including individual food items that cannot be sold to pupils in grades pre-kindergarten through eight through vending machines due to such foods falling below the minimum nutritional standards established by the State Board of Education pursuant to the Tennessee School Nutrition Standards Act.”

At Kingsport and many school systems, no soft drinks are allowed in vending machines, although soft drinks are sold in concession stands at after-school athletic events.

State Rep. John Litz, D-Morristown, voted against the bill, saying he worries that color advertisements could lead to more accidents.

However, House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, and state Reps. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, voted for the legislation, as did Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and state Sen. Mike Williams, R-Church Hill.

Montgomery said he has no problem with lawmakers empowering local school districts to make a decision on bus ads. However, he said it just wouldn’t be something all school districts would adopt.

“I would much rather people watch the school bus rather than read the ad on it,” Montgomery said.

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