School's Naming Rights Sold, At What Cost?
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In Los Angeles, the school district's cafeterias and sports fields will soon be brought to you by some of the world's biggest companies. The district is turning to corporate sponsors to help fill major budget holes, which makes parents and some school officials uncomfortable.
Nate Berg reports.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
NATE BERG: School has just started this morning at Logan Elementary in Los Angeles' Echo Park neighborhood, and Gloria Rodriguez is beginning her rounds. She's been a volunteer on campus for years, even after her own kids finished school here. She thinks the sponsorships could be a good thing.
Ms. GLORIA RODRIGUEZ (Volunteer, Logan Elementary): You know, if they can help the children, if they can do something for the children, then it will be wonderful. But, you know, I don't know.
BERG: What she doesn't know is whether the cost of putting corporate names on campus buildings will be worth the money it brings in to the struggling district. Some parents are absolutely opposed. Roland Johnson, Jr. was at Logan later in the day to pick up his fourth-grade daughter. He worries about the implications of the program.
Mr. ROLAND JOHNSON, JR.: Nothing is free. OK? The more they give you, the more say-so they're going to have. OK? They're not going to do it unless they're here to make money. They're not doing it out the kindness of their heart.
Ms. MELISSA INFUSINO (Director of Partnerships, Los Angeles School District): This isn't about putting ads or sponsors inside the classroom. This is about actually keeping the teacher in the classroom and the services that kids need in the schools.
BERG: That's Melissa Infusino, director of partnerships for the L.A. school district. She's heading the sponsorship program. Even though the school board unanimously approved it, there's still some internal discomfort.
Ms. INFUSINO: I think the board members are also really uncomfortable with the idea of continuing layoffs and cutting programs, and so there's a willingness to consider this, but to do it with integrity and parameters in place.
BERG: Parameters like no sponsorships from companies that sell unhealthy or age-inappropriate products such as soft drinks, fast food or alcohol. Interested companies will be subject to a string of reviews, going all the way up to the school board and superintendent.
It's not just sites on campus that are up for bids. Infusino says they're offering branding and sponsorship opportunities all around the district, from its fleet of delivery trucks to its website. They're even looking at underwriting for school nurses.
Los Angeles is the biggest school district to take this route, but it's not the first. Milwaukee Public Schools began a similar program in early 2009. Molly Barrett is director of recreation and community services there. She says Milwaukee's program has so far been a success, but not a blockbuster.
Ms. MOLLY BARRETT (Director of Recreation and Community Services, Milwaukee Public Schools): Do I have enough money to go out and build a multimillion-dollar stadium? No. But it's money that I can use to either purchase equipment, get uniforms for teams that would not have otherwise been in the budget.
BERG: Nobody thinks a few sponsorships are going to completely fill deep budget holes. L.A.'s program is expected to make about $18 million a year. But the district's Melissa Infusino says that's just a drop compared to the one-and-a-half billion dollars it's cut from its budget in recent years.
Ms. INFUSINO: This will - has never been, will never be a substitute for public funding of schools.
BERG: But sponsorships will be part of the picture. And by springtime, school officials and parents alike will have to get used to the idea that corporate dollars and corporate names are part of their public schools.
For NPR News, I'm Nate Berg, in Los Angeles.�
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.