If a proposed portal deal goes through, the Denver Public Schools stand to earn nearly half a million dollars in new revenue, according to school officials and executives of the new web portal company Kickstart.com.

Kickstart.com offers yet another twist to the idea of the online fundraiser: Schools that use the web site as their gateway to the internet receive a penny and a half per web “click” from the site’s search engine and reference links. For large school systems, such as Denver’s, the offer could translate into several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Of course, there’s a catch to all this free money—the site features paid commercial advertisements controlled by the district.

Assuming its three-year contract with Kickstart.com is approved by the school board, the Denver Public Schools will become the first school system in the country to integrate the site into its technology program on a district-wide basis.

Under the deal, Kickstart.com will provide a portal for the district’s web pages similar to those offered by companies such as Yahoo! and Excite. Every time an internet user passes through the portal, the district will earn money.

The Denver schools have 7,500 internet-connected computers in their classrooms, and 45 percent of the homes of the district’s 67,000 students have internet access. At least 100,000 searches and web hits related to the district occur each day, school officials said.

With the amount of web traffic that occurs in the district, officials said their deal with Kickstart.com could net the Denver Public Schools at least $425,000 per year.

But like ZapMe! Corp., which gives schools free computers and internet access in exchange for browser-based ads targeted at teens, Kickstart.com has fueled controversy in Colorado. Some parents and community members fear the introduction of commercialism in public schools.

“I don’t believe we have many options for revenue streams,” board Vice President Bennie Milliner was quoted as saying at a March 9 meeting. “People might say we’re selling our souls, but I think we’ve crafted this deal very carefully.”

Denver school officials compare their deal with Kickstart.com to the lucrative—and controversial—contracts that districts across the country are signing with the likes of Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co.

Here’s how the Kickstart.com program works: A school or district signs up for the service and receives a portal page with news feeds, reference links, and a section where the administrator can customize content, said Janice Grissom Scott, Kickstart.com’s vice president of sales.

In addition to a reward for each web click generated through the Kickstart.com portal, schools also receive a portion of sales—up to 20 percent—from about 150 online merchants.

According to Scott, half of the site’s total revenue goes to schools even before Kickstart figures in any of its own costs. Kickstart gets 3 cents from its advertisers and business partners for each click on a search engine or reference link and up to 40 percent of each eCommerce transaction.

In its deal with the Denver Public Schools, Kickstart will distribute the page-view revenue to the district, which plans to use that money to expand its bandwidth. The revenue from purchases will go directly to the class, team, or group specified by the person browsing or shopping on the site.

Denver school officials aren’t worried about the commercial implications of the Kickstart.com program. Using the same web portal consistently—rather than letting students choose Yahoo!, Excite, or the like—will actually give teachers more control over the content their students are exposed to, said Denver partnership director Christine Smith.

“This gives schools, districts, and teachers more control over what kids are doing online. We can make sure the things they see are age-appropriate,” she said. “Another benefit we hold dear is the final advertiser approval.”

Added Scott, “Kids are already being exposed to advertising. The Kickstart portal gives several advantages. First, there is the financial incentive, and second, there’s the guarantee that ads won’t be inappropriate. Other search engines have gambling ads, ads for Budweiser. And they don’t help schools raise money.”

Kickstart is developing a specialized home page to be featured in classrooms. The classroom portal will exclude shopping and eMail features, so students can’t be distracted from their studies, the company said.


Denver Public Schools