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Sponsorships Could Save Planetariums

Advertising in Schools?

Since the school opened in September 2000, Westfield High School principal Dale Rumberger has half-jokingly claimed the roof of the school is the perfect place for advertising, since the Chantilly facility is on a flight path for Dulles International Airport.

Rumberger's billboard idea, while usually met with smiles, could be a reality within the next couple of years. The Fairfax County Public Schools has entered into a fixed-price contract with DD Marketing Inc. to review the school system's potential revenue streams through exclusive beverage contracts, corporate sponsorship of the nine planetariums and signs in the schools.

Dan DeRose, president of DD Marketing, based in Colo., said his firm already has experience negotiating contracts for advertising on top of schools, having done it in Texas.

"We've had different experiences across the country," DeRose said.

DD MARKETING has 60 days to create a study that looks at what revenue-generating options the school system has in the three designated areas. Should the School Board like the proposals, DD Marketing could then be given the go-ahead to find interested advertisers and solicit exclusive beverage contracts. The initial study will cost $16,000 and should any action be taken beyond that, DD Marketing would receive a commission based on performance which typically equates to 16 percent, said DeRose.

"We have negotiated 192 exclusive beverage contracts," said DeRose. "Traditionally there are three sources of revenue, rights fees, guaranteed commissions and actual commission."

He said the rights fees and guaranteed commissions are a specified amount of money paid by the bottling company to the school system regardless of sales. Actual commission would be any profits above the guaranteed commission.

As for the signs in schools, DeRose said that could be annual naming rights at athletic fields, positive P.A. announcements or advertising, which contains an educational message, approved by a community board for placement in the schools.

"For practical reasons we are going to need to raise money. … We need the signage to continue funding the current programs we have now," said School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville).

THE POTENTIAL for corporate sponsorship of the school system's nine planetariums has saved the program, at least for now.

The planetariums, located at Edison High in Franconia, Falls Church High, Hayfield Secondary near Kingstowne, Herndon High, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Annandale, Oakton High, Sandburg Middle in Mount Vernon, West Springfield High and Woodson High in Fairfax, were on the initial budget cut list.

Last year, the school system spent $796,999 on the planetariums and estimates the cost to jump to more than $830,000 in FY 2003. The planetariums have since been removed from the possible cuts list in hopes sponsorship can be found to save the program.

"With the planetariums, that's a unique proposal. I'm not sure it's been done before," DeRose said.

Lee District member Christian Braunlich said he was glad the School Board was moving forward with exploring possible revenue streams, but wanted to know if $800,000 per year in sponsorship fees for the planetariums was reasonable to expect.

"I can't answer that yet," DeRose said. "At the end of the study, we'll let you know what we think can be generated. This hasn't been done in a lot of school districts."

MYCHELE BRICKNER (At large) asked if it was possible to rent out the planetariums to other school districts or community groups at night.

"No, because our kids are using them during the day. We do book them in the evenings as a community service," said Jack Greene, the Fairfax County Public Schools kindergartner through 12th grade science coordinator. "To my knowledge we have never rented them out."

The planetariums, which seat between 60 to 80 people, are used as part of the astronomy units in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade science program of studies.