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Schools find the real thing: Product deals bring in cash

SHARE Schools find the real thing: Product deals bring in cash

Schools in Plano, Texas, soon will sell only juices and other beverages made by Dr Pepper. In exchange, the school system gets to pocket $1 million for each of the next 10 years.

Students in Colorado Springs, Colo., ride on buses plastered with advertisements. And now the school system has an arrangement with Coca-Cola that is worth as much as $11 million for the next 10 years.Jim Surratt, superintendent of schools in Wake, N.C., says he is intrigued by such deals. And he has begun giving a close look to a once-shunned commercial approach to boosting funds for schools.

"I'm wide open on this issue," said Surratt, who was schools chief in Plano before coming to Wake in 1995. "You test where a community would want to be on this, of course. But I promise you this sort of thing is coming."

He has requested from Plano a copy of the Dr Pepper agreement, which the school board there approved this week. "This movement is spreading across the country," he said. "It may be necessary to negotiate on a widespread basis. If one company made an offer, we'd have to consider it."

In Plano, school leaders plan to use the funds from Dr Pepper for grants to schools and teachers. The offer from Dr Pepper comes when the school system is struggling with a state funding approach for public education that means Plano returns $25 million in property taxes each year to help low-wealth systems.

"We feel that we have to become entrepreneurial to provide funds we need to provide educational programs," said Carole Greisdorf, special assistant to the superintendent in Plano. "I think our community appreciates the fact that we are trying to mitigate the effect of the state finance plan."

Dr Pepper, which is relocating its corporate offices to Plano, came to the school system with the offer.

In Colorado Springs, the school system went shopping for offers. Coca-Cola's was one of several, said Tracy Cooper, public information officer there. Already, the Colorado Springs schools sell space for ads inside their buildings. Last year, such arrangements generated nearly $100,000 for the school system.

Cooper said the community has been generally supportive of an approach that critics see as an invitation to commercialize public schools.

"There's always a little bit of concern," Cooper said, "but in all of this, we have had surprisingly little criticism." The Coke deal promises each high school in the system $25,000 a year; each middle school, $15,000; and each elementary school, $3,000.