, Salem, MA

June 29, 2013

Selling school naming rights wrong, says Peabody board member

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — A proposal to raise money for education by selling naming rights for various school facilities may have run into a patriotic roadblock.

It’s a common practice for sports facilities, from Gillette Stadium to TD Bank Garden, to win subsidies by attaching the names of commercial concerns. For companies like Gillette and TD Bank, it’s a form of advertising. And if it can work for professional teams, it may well be profitable for schools.

That concept is now under consideration in Peabody, said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, chairman of the School Committee.

“In these tough economic times, we have to look at different options,” he said, noting the large sums being expended already for construction of the new Higgins Middle School.

At a recent meeting, Superintendent Joe Mastrocola first raised the possibility as worthy of a study.

“I do think it was the right decision to bring this out for discussion,” Bettencourt said.

A donation from a family, a local business or even a large corporation could provide vital income for the schools, he indicated.

“I’m not saying we have to do this,” he added, “but it would be a mistake not to look into it.”

The idea sparked fierce opposition, however, from School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne.

“I think you would be selling the soul of our schools,” she told the News. “Very rarely do you hear me say, ‘I’m going to fight on this,’ but this time I do say it.”

Echoing what she told colleagues at the meeting, she added, “Our policy is a very firm one at the high school. Everything at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School needs to be named after a veteran.” Or it must invoke some aspect of the United States military. “I just assumed everyone knew that. ... That school was dedicated in honor of our veterans.”

Bettencourt replied that nonmilitary people are already represented on the high school grounds. He cited a memorial to Christine Barbuto, a 9/11 victim.

Griffin Dunne said she was taken aback when discussion about assigning “naming rights” even countenanced the football field, named for Coley Lee, a Vietnam veteran who later succumbed as a result of exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange. Also among the areas of the schools carrying the names of veterans are the various “houses” within the high school that students are assigned to. When she graduated from Peabody High, Griffin Dunne said, she organized the class gift, photos of the three World War II veterans whose names are carried by each of the houses. Those photos are still on display.

Currently, her husband, Bob, is a member of the Naval Reserve, and Griffin Dunne concedes that this connection helps in her continued appreciation for the sacrifices that veterans have made.

“Maybe I do have a higher sensibility because of that,” she said.

At the same time, she is sympathetic to the aims of the proposal.

“I am totally grateful to anyone who contributes to our schools,” she said.

She would support a plaque saluting some donor or the bricks sometimes sold and inscribed to contributors.

As far as a compromise that retains the veteran titles and adds a commercial prefix — something like The Acme Battle of Fallujah Field, she replied flatly, “No.”

This argument is not a new one. Griffin Dunne recalled debating the issue in the past with her colleagues on the board, taking a stand in general against advertising in the schools.