South Portland to allow business ads at school sports venues

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board narrowly approved allowing businesses to pay for advertising inside Beal Gymansium and at Martin Field.

The 4-3 vote on Monday, Feb. 8, creates a new general revenue stream for the School Department. 

The decision to allow “modest” signage will provide money for athletic department needs, Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said Monday, and help cover an expected decline in state funding to the city.

South Portland is expecting $290,000 less in state General Purpose Aid than it received last year, according to preliminary figures released this month, Kunin said, while more than half of the state’s school districts are projected to lose $12 million collectively. 

“We basically see the reduction in funding from the state as a tax increase for local property tax owners,” he told the board. “… In order to maintain a rich array of programs of all sorts … we need to find other ways to add revenue into our coffers.”

Dissenting board members Tappan Fitzgerald, Sara Goldberg and Richard Carter, however, criticized the proposal by Kunin and Athletic Director Todd Livingston because the advertising revenue will not be funneled exclusively into the athletic budget, which totals approximately $740,000.

“If I were a local businesses and I (was) wanting to support athletics by purchasing a sign for advertisement, and then I find out it’s actually going into the general budget … I don’t think I’d be very happy about that,” Goldberg said. 

While the board could earmark those funds, Kunin said the impact would be the same, especially if the amount grows over time.

 “It adds to our overall revenue line, which enables us to budget for a full athletic program,” he said.  

Kunin said first-year revenue may not be more than about $30,000. But over the next few years, he said, revenue could grow to a “six-figure” amount.

Most residents who addressed the board, many of whom are affiliated with athletics, supported the plan and cited the increasing expenses associated with school sports. 

John Gleason, of Elderberry Drive, said he supports the plan. “My fear is that we’re headed towards an environment where sports (are) only for those with money,” he said. 

Joe Henderson, president of the high school girls basketball booster club, agreed. “We struggle every year to continue raising the (necessary) funds,” Henderson said. “… I think there’s a welcome opportunity to relieve some of the pressure here on the parents and booster clubs.”

The new revenue stream will play a big part in helping the district avoid “pay-to-play” participation, which “a lot of parents can’t afford,” Debbie Gillies, of Elderberry Drive, said. 

Greg Lewis, of Mussey Street, criticized the proposal, calling it an “extremely poor idea.”

“I think public schools ought to be financed with public money, period,” he said. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.