Turning to the internet site eBay to auction off naming rights for their only school is a desperate fund-raising tactic, admit the board president and superintendent of a 300-student New Jersey school district.

If the state did more for Brooklawn, a small town near Camden, N.J., the district’s unusual fund-raising efforts would not be needed, said Superintendent John Kellmayer.

“A lot of smaller districts are fighting for their survival,” Kellmayer said. “What we’re doing here is going to be the norm in 10 years.”

Students at Alice Costello School already shoot baskets at the ShopRite of Brooklawn Center (the gymnasium) and do research in the Flowers Library and Media Center. But the school could be among the first in the nation to sell its full name to a corporate sponsor, if Kellmayer and his board members follow through with their idea.

In a world where advertisements are everywhere from elevators in parking garages to the sides of big-league sports arenas, Brooklawn’s top school leaders think more school districts will soon consider selling naming rights to buildings they own.

At the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Brooklawn’s school is held up as a model for both its student performance and its creative fund-raising, because getting money elsewhere means relying less on property tax revenue.

“Anything a school can do to be entrepreneurial, so much the better,” said Dana Egreczky, a vice president at the chamber.

Many schools already have some form of corporate sponsorship, from advertisements in yearbooks to company-sponsored sports scoreboards and underwritten band uniforms. Brooklawn’s serious naming-rights effort began in 2001, when the new gym was christened ShopRite of Brooklawn Center.

The owner of the local supermarket agreed to pay $100,000 over 20 years to have his store’s name displayed on the outside of the gym built that year as part of a $3.6 million school expansion and renovation project. About half the funding for that project came from the state government.

As part of a building expansion, the school also got a library for the first time. It’s named for the Flowers, an influential local family willing to pay $100,000 for the name.

The school district got some negative publicity from the ShopRite sponsorship. The deal was ridiculed on sports talk radio and labeled “This Week’s Sign of the Apocalypse” in Sports Illustrated magazine.

Bruce Darrow, school board president, said he is not deterred by bad publicity. “The only thing I regret now is [that] ShopRite got off so cheap,” he said.

The Brooklawn native is brimming with other ideas for raising money. He envisions a school where the junior-high sports teams have ads on their jerseys, where companies pay to have their logos not only on the edge of the basketball court, but also in the free-throw lanes.

Darrow doesn’t like the idea of requiring school uniforms, but if ads could be put on them, he’d certainly listen. And if a health-care company offers to pay to renovate the school’s nurses’ office, he’ll consider it.

But it’s his idea of selling naming rights to the entire school that is creating the most discussion in the community. The concept is exceptionally rare for public schools across the country.

But not quite unique.

Cash-strapped Belmont-Redwood Shores School District in Belmont, Calif. reportedly is looking for corporate sponsors. Marilyn Sanchez, assistant to the superintendent, said that companies could not change school names entirely there. Central School, she said, could become known as something like “Central School, sponsored by Intel Corp.”

Darrow has two caveats to his name-selling plan: First, not just anyone could buy the name of the school. Also, he won’t pursue the idea unless residents give him an OK in a referendum.

Lynn Heslin, whose 13-year-old daughter Amber is in seventh grade at Costello, wouldn’t mind.

“I probably wouldn’t be opposed, as long as it benefits the school,” Heslin said.

Kathleen Maass, a former school board president, said she is comfortable selling naming rights to parts of the school. But she’d vote against changing the name of a school already named for a late former teacher and principal.

“Selling the school name? No,” Maass said. “There are some things that shouldn’t be for sale … Alice Costello did a lot for the school, and I don’t think they should sell her name.”

Links:

Alice Costello School
http://www.alicecostello.com

eBay
http://www.ebay.com

Belmont-Redwood Shores School District
http://www.belmont.k12.ca.us/