Friday, December 2, 2005
RSC struggles with sponsorship vs. advertising
The Dugout Club, the booster club for the Concord-Carlisle High School softball teams, put up a temporary fence with sponsors' signs in the outfield last spring that has caused some ruffled feathers. The club defended their actions at the November 22 meeting of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC).
The fence is made up of roughly 50 large panels. More than 40 of these panels have sponsors' names and logos on them. Some people took issue with advertising on school grounds. Others viewed it as a way for local businesses to show their support through sponsorship. Two things are clear: the Dugout Club thought they had permission to put up the fence with the sponsors' names and the RSC does not have an approved policy in place for advertising on campus.
Cathy Bilafer, the spokeswoman for the Dugout Club, presented some history, saying a fence was needed for safety reasons. This is the second fence the Dugout Club has invested in. The first was a flimsy lattice type that did not last. The new fence cost more than $8,000 and is quite substantial, with metal piping around each wood panel. The Dugout Club financed the fence and supports the softball teams by getting sponsors for the fence. Some sponsors paid for a single season while others paid $500 for what they thought would be many seasons of their names on the outfield fence. The fence is put up in late March and is taken down in mid-June by the Dugout Club.
Back in 2002, the club spoke with the RSC about a fence and proposed a policy to the committee. RSC member Pat Sinnott said, "The RSC did not take action. The club moved forward without a policy." The RSC checked minutes from the meetings around that time and found a policy was never voted on or approved, although the Dugout Club disputes this. The club feels they had gotten the okay from the Athletic Director, Principal Art Dulong and the acting superintendent.
RSC member Betsy Bilodeau reminded the committee what was happening at that time. The RSC was looking for a new superintendent. There was an interim superintendent and large budgetary problems. The towns of Concord and Carlisle didn't match funding at the same level. "It was like a fire storm," she said. The budget issues were so great that other business, specifically setting policy on the amount of advertising allowed on school grounds, was not addressed. Bilodeau recalls the interim superintendent said he would take care of the fence issue. The RSC did not follow up on it and the Dugout Club thinks that the interim superintendent gave the club approval for the fence.
The Dugout Club said they thought they were doing the right thing. They said the project created a lot of team spirit and much energy was expended on this project when the students on the softballs teams painted the signs. Although the RSC does not like the advertising, they want to be supportive of the students who worked on getting the fence up. The RSC discussed grandfathering the fence for the short term, until those students who worked on it have graduated, with a goal of having the sponsors' names disappear after that time.
The RSC wrestled with the thin line between sponsorship and advertising. RSC member Michael Fitzgerald asked, "What are we trying to accomplish?" Biledeau asked, "How much advertising is acceptable?" The RSC sets policy for the district, not just one team. The committee doesn't want permanent advertising. Fitzgerald said, "We want to limit [the amount of] advertising kids see everyday." Bilodeau said she expected the fence to be taken down after each game, since it is a "temporary fence," not realizing that the Dugout Club's definition of a temporary fence was a fence that was only up part of the year. The sections are too large and bulky to be taken down after each game. The RSC asked the Dugout Club to consider a way to cover the signs between games.
Student representative Tom Schnitzer said he did not mind the advertising on the fence, but he warned that "kids want consistency." He pointed out there is a Coke sign on the scoreboard in the gym. The RSC is willing to grandfather the scoreboard.
Fitzgerald stated, "First, there should be an adoption of a policy to limit "in-your-face" advertising on school grounds. Once the policy is approved, the RSC should figure out what to do about the fence." Sinnott added, "We could give a one-year to three-year leeway so they [the Dugout Club and softball team members] wouldn't feel their work was in vain." RSC member Becky Shannon pointed out, "That we need sponsorship for our sports teams."
RSC member Nicole Burkel commented, "We have a responsibility to set policy. We don't want to cause more expense to the Dugout Club. They did what they thought was right." Sinnott added, "We need to give clear guidance for the 2005-2006 season." Fitzgerald added, "I'm okay with three years with the understanding that they have to adhere to the policy after that."
The RSC said they plan to draw up a policy to be reviewed and approved in the coming meetings.
© 2005 The