Sharing back-to-school bonuses

Districts find unique revenue streams in corporate partnerships
By: | Issue: August, 2015
July 27, 2015

The average family spends $669 on clothing, electronics and other back-to-school supplies before classes begin each year. And in recent years, more school districts have received a share of the profits.

Savvy administrators have allowed local and national retailers to sponsor back-to-school lists and to advertise on district websites. The schools receive a piece of the revenues, and in some cases, administrators have shielded students from being flooded by images and corporate ads.

Better school supply lists

Target last year paid $12,600 to San Juan USD in Northern California to sponsor district back-to-school supply lists. The list featured a link to the retailer’s website and Target’s logo.

“We allowed Target to sponsor our lists, as well as carry their ads on our district websites because we believed they were a company that wanted to support schools,” says Trent Allen, senior director of community relations.

Besides the obvious financial benefit, Target’s sponsorship prompted the district to re-examine how back-to-school lists were being created and distributed. “We have 67 school sites and all were asking students to buy different things,” says Allen. “Some were mailing their lists over the summer, and some were distributing them after the students returned in the fall. This gave us the opportunity to have a district wide conversation about best practices.”

The revenue goes into the district’s donation account and is used for enrichment, Allen says. In 2013, the funds went toward senior class activities at Encina and San Juan high schools.

Districts need control

Education Funding Partners, an organization that connects Fortune 500 companies to school districts, facilitated the San Juan USD-Target partnership. Education Funding Partners earns a commission, which is paid by the corporate sponsor and is typically 30 percent of the total sponsorship.

“We give companies a way to get their products into schools in district-friendly ways, instead of just investing in education through foundation donations,” says Mickey Freeman, president and CEO of Education Funding Partners.

What else is out there?

Creative engagement: Two districts did this to engage businesses for financial gains

Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia

The district has earned $55,000 from a partnership with CVS pharmacy that began in May and ends in October.

The CVS logo was placed on the district’s home page, which gets 1.1 million hits a month when school is in session. Signs on doors, posters and placards also showcase the pharmacy’s health and wellness products.

CVS was also the major sponsor of the district’s community expo that promoted summer activities for students. The funds from the partners help pay for the district’s website and individual school websites.ÑSharon Henry, executive director of the SPARK Education Foundation, Prince William County schools

Orange County Public Schools, Florida

As one of the largest districts in the nation, Orange County schools has many expenses. Fortunately, it is located in central Florida near major tourism corporations interested in partnering with schools.

Between dollar and in-kind donations, the district earned $1 million through various activities sponsored by SeaWorld Orlando. The partnership supports teacher banquets and includes donations of unsold stuffed animals and apparel to use as student incentives.

Orange County schools has more than 1,500 business partnerships, and all fulfill a school priority or need.ÑSara Au, specialist, Orange County’s Partners in Education

For these partnerships to work, district leaders must have total control of the company’s activities and involvement, Freeman says. The sponsoring corporation should not interfere with learning.

Education Funding Partners also pairs districts with Microsoft, which provides free Microsoft Office 365 Proplus licenses to families that live in a district that uses the software.

Diverse retail partners

Folsom Cordova USD, also in northern California, partnered with Education Funding Partners to manage its retail sponsorships. Among its partners are Target, Sports Authority and Macy’s. “The revenue from Target goes to a reserve for supporting low-income students with their back-to-school needs,” says Daniel Thigpen, spokesman for Folsom Cordova.

A 3-by-5 banner ad and PA announcements promoted Sports Authority at two major high school football games last fall. The sponsorship was advertised in a district newsletter before the event, as well. Along with the sponsorship fee of $12,857, Sports Authority offered to students a limited supply of free T-shirts and giveaways of inflatable noise makers adorned with the school’s and their own logos. “Beyond the revenue, we benefit from boosted school spirit and student excitement,” says Thigpen.

Macy’s held prom events this past spring at Folsom Cordova that were intended to build excitement for prom, as well as to promote Macy’s apparel and accessories. The $5,891 earned from this sponsorship was used for professional development, for professional speakers for back-to-school motivational assemblies and for funding district marketing activities. “Like many other districts, we’ve been in the throes of budget cuts and these partnerships have helped us fill gaps,” says Thigpen.

Rules, regulations

To maintain control over ads aimed at students and families, Folsom Cordova administrators created sponsorship policies that prevent students from being saturated with corporate advertisements, Thigpen says.

“Our guidelines call for sponsorships to have a real educational benefit and purpose,” he says.

To apply for a Folsom Cordova sponsorship, a retailer must submit a detailed proposal to the superintendent that includes how the partnership will increase student participation in educational or extracurricular activities. A guarantee of how much money the district would receive must be detailed, along with the duration and parameters of the sponsorship.

Education Funding Partners
Office Depot
School Outfitters

Once the partnership begins, no ads may be placed in classrooms, on class websites or in any other setting intended for instruction. Sponsored signage must be approved by the school’s principal, and cannot exceed 3 feet by 8 feet. Website banner ads must be 300×250 pixels or 728×90 pixels.

Neither the retailer nor its content can conflict with school values. For example, the district, which encourages students to eat healthier foods, would not allow ads promoting high-calorie sugary drinks.

Enabling BYOD

When transitioning from a 1-to-1 program to BYOD this fall, administrators at Stewartville Public Schools in Minnesota found a way to help parents pay for student devices. A goal was to close the technology gap in a district where some students’ parents work for IBM and others live in one of the largest trailer parks in the state, says Superintendent David Thompson.

Stewartville partnered with Best Buy for the 2015-16 school year. The retailer created a branded website with the district’s logo where parents could purchase a tablet or laptop pre-approved by Loren Kiefer, the district’s director of technology. The website went live June 1 and was open for six weeks. It will return on Dec. 1 for another six weeks. Devices range from $100 to $750, and include Windows-based machines, Chromebooks and Apple devices.

To allow parents to make fully informed decisions, some machines were purchased from Best Buy in spring 2015 and students were allowed to work on them to test and see which they liked best. Kiefer’s team took parent and student feedback into account when finalizing the list of devices available.

Parents pay for the device on Best Buy’s website, and then Best Buy bills the district for the $100-per-device subsidy, says Kiefer. The parent sees only the cost of what he or she is responsible for, she says.

“BYOD,” says Thompson, “allows parents to choose which computer they want for their student.”

Kylie Lacey is associate editor.