INDIANAPOLIS — Cash hungry schools may start selling ads on the sides of buses to make up millions of dollars lost because of property tax caps.
Legislation moving through the General Assembly would create a pilot program allowing a few districts to peddle the rights to place ads on buses. It would be the first step in what supporters envision as a statewide program making Indiana the latest state to allow schools to transform their yellow buses into rolling billboards.
“We don’t know yet how much money it will generate, but with the boat we’re in now, every little bit helps,” said Mike Shafer, chief financial officer for Zionsville Community Schools, which lost more than $500,000 in transportation funds last year due to property tax caps.
Zionsville administrators lobbied for the measure, and their district would be one of three in the pilot program. Other districts may soon follow.
“If it’s something a local community wants, I think the state should provide the option to do it,” said Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, author of a larger school transportation bill that contains the advertising provision. “It’s not deemed as something that solves the larger problem, but it can be used as a complementary revenue source.”
Schools have been hit hard by the tax caps passed by voters in 2010. While the caps saved property owners $704 million on their tax bills last year, schools lost more than $245 million in funds they used to keep buses running and to pay for other big-ticket items.
Some in the Statehouse question the wisdom of making up that money by selling space on buses.
“I’m sure it’s well intended,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. “But it does raise the larger question of what’s going on here when we can’t properly fund our school transportation systems.”