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Editorials

Should school buses be billboards?

Circuit breakers force a desperate cash grab

A proposed amendment to a debt service bill would allow school buses to serve as rolling billboards for advertisers. House Bill 1062 creates a pilot program for Beech Grove, Franklin Township and Zionsville schools to sell advertising space on the sides of their buses. A school official said the Zionsville district could raise up to $60,000 a year.

The plan is another consequence of Indiana’s circuit-breaker law, which caps the collection of school transportation fund levies and leaves districts with no way to meet rising fuel costs.

Aside from the cash, is it a good idea?

“The guy reading that sign is not going to be paying attention to what that bus is doing,” Jim Howard, vice president of the Indiana State School Bus Drivers Association, told the Indianapolis Star. “Is it worth the risk?”

Indeed, it’s tough to believe the extensive language prescribing bus requirements won’t be compromised by a full-color photo of a submarine sandwich or minivan. Among pages and pages of requirements, state law prescribes “body manufacturers or their agents must paint the bus body national school bus yellow in accordance with the colormetric specification of Federal Standard No. 595a-Color 13432, using only lead-free paint.” Lawmakers have even detailed specifications for an American flag decal displayed on a bus.

Proponents say the signs would be age-appropriate for students, so that alcohol, tobacco or casino ads would be prohibited. While districts could approve ads case by case, it’s easy to imagine a business owner seeking legal redress after his bail bond ad has been rejected.

Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, offered the amendment, noting “there’s no interest by the public to do anything about raising property taxes.”

Instead, wouldn’t it be refreshing if Miller and other lawmakers were courageous enough to make the case that schools should have enough money to operate their buses without slapping “this space for lease” signs on them?

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