, Salem, MA

July 2, 2013

Our view: Schools for sale in Peabody

The Salem News

---- — School leaders are paid to find ways to provide the youth of local communities with an excellent education while keeping the cost of that schooling as reasonable as possible. So, it’s good to see Peabody School Committee members casting about for ways to ease the burden on taxpayers. We only wish they had focused more on keeping spending in check than considering new ways to offer the schools to corporations and other private businesses.

At issue is the idea of corporate sponsorship and “naming rights” — the idea that a business making a substantial-enough donation can have its name attached to a stadium, football field, building wing or other school property.

“In these tough economic times, we have to look at different options,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said last week.

Private or corporate donations could provide vital cash, he said. “I’m not saying we have to do this, but it would be a mistake not to look into it.”

At least Beverley Griffin Dunne has shown a willingness to keep her fellow committee members from going too far in pursuit of extra cash.

Griffin Dunne told reporter Alan Burke that selling corporate naming rights “would be selling the soul of our schools. Very rarely do you hear me say, ‘I’m going to fight on this,’ but this time, I do say it.”

At the very least, the School Committee needs to proceed with caution and a skeptical mind. Peabody has a long tradition of honoring the city’s veterans through its schools.

“Our policy is a very firm one at the high school,” Griffin Dunne said. “Everything at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School needs to be named after a veteran. The football field, for example, is named for Coley Lee, a Vietnam veteran who died after exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange.”

And of course, corporate sponsorship often comes with strings attached and can turn schools into marketing arms of private businesses. Kids are already exposed to commercial messages almost everywhere else they go, and schools used to be a safe haven from those pressures.

Just a few years ago, the Peabody School Committee was mocked by Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert for its decision to sell ads on notices sent home with students at the city’s eight elementary schools, going so far as to market the idea to businesses as ‘an effective and very inexpensive way for you to reach this target market.’”

Colbert, of course, saw the folly in the plan.

“I say, why stop at school notes when there are so many other ‘ed-ver-advertunities’ out there?” Colbert joked at the time. “Why not let advertisers buy prime space on our tests? Instead of ‘What is the Pythagorean theorem, how about, ‘Which Taco Bell Gordita is the most Fresco Supreme?’”

There’s no telling what this latest idea, which the committee plans to study, will bring the city. What is certain, however, is that the time would be much better spent exploring ways to keep spending in check.