No, that photo above is not a scene from Morgan Spulock's latest documentary. Turns out, Dallas County Schools has teamed up with ad agency Alpha Media to stick hundreds of vinyl advertisements on the sides of their buses, generating an expected $1 million this year. As next year's budget cuts begin take shape, the Dallas Independent School District in particular is hoping to recoup as much as possible, doubling the number of buses bearing advertisements from more than 25 percent in 2010, the first year of the program, to 50 percent of its 1,200-bus fleet this year.
"We saw the crunch coming and started a couple years ago," says Susan J. Falvo,
Chief of Staff at Dallas County Schools. "You knew something had to be done. You didn't need a degree in economics to see this coming."
Some of the eight participating districts were hesitant to take part in the ad program initially, Falvo says, but ultimately agreed to take part when they saw the financial success other districts had. The agency has also left a great deal of control up to the schools: Ads featuring alcohol, tobacco, political and religious language are verboten under state law, and individual districts have the power to veto offending ads. So far, ads are fairly benign, featuring businesses such as dentists, tutors and credit agencies.
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Michael Beauchamp, Alpha Media's CEO, says it's about more than just offering a cheaper way to advertise. "For the price of one billboard, you could buy 100 school bus ads," Beauchamp says. "Most of all, they're happy to put their money back into the schools."