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Fate Of Scoreboard And Other Schools Ads Unclear

McDonald's Ad Approved By Board Of Education, But Not Yet By Planning & Zoning

What started as a Stonington Public Schools request to install a new high school football scoreboard, with advertising sponsor panels attached, evolved into a more sweeping zoning amendment to permit advertising signage on both indoor and outdoor scoreboards, press boxes and fences at athletic fields.  The advertising initiative was devised in an effort to offset the costs of under-funded school athletic programming.  

Indeed, after three Planning and Zoning Commission meetings where the matter was discussed, and ultimately approved, last week the school board approved a McDonald’s ad for the press box slated to be unveiled for the Thanksgiving Day football game.  

But not everyone is applauding and despite the school board’s go-ahead on the fast food ad, it did not appear on the PZC agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting for approval, required before the sign can go up. 

At the Nov. 1 PZC meeting, member John Prue said the amendment is flawed, that it is a departure from the original request and it was rushed through in order to have the scoreboard with its ads in place before the game on Thanksgiving. This year, the century-old rivalry between Stonington and Westerly is played on home turf. And while Prue did vote to approve, he said that the text amendment needed to be revisited – as soon as possible after that game.

Back in July, schools operations manager Bill King told the PZC the Board of Education hoped to begin selling advertising space to cover the cost of installing the new scoreboard. At the time the commission explained that there was no zoning regulations that permitted the practice, but it agreed to allow planning and zoning staff to work with the schools and come up with a zoning text amendment that would allow ads, albeit ones with size and visibility guidelines.

The PZC agreed it would be unable to vote on ad content. Also at the time, the commission agreed that many fields already utilize large banner-type signage, like that found at both the Pawcatuck and Mystic little league fields, something not compliant with town zoning regulations.

The one commission member then to oppose the move was Ben Tamsky. He again voted against the plan at the November meeting. His position was commercial advertising was a slippery slope for the schools and the town and should be avoided. He said he was sympathetic to the plight of unfunded extracurricular programming but suggested, “If everyone in town gave a dollar,” that would be one way to raise funds.

And it just may be that it is the omnipresent fundraising that athletes are required to engage in that is also driving the ad program.

At last week’s Board of Education meeting, member Alisa Morrison said fundraising was “getting out of control.”

“I got six fundraising requests in one week,” she told the board.

This spring the town Finance Board agreed to set up a special schools account for any revenue realized from initiatives like the scoreboards advertising panels program.

The fate of which now remains unknown. As does whether fans in the bleachers at the Thanksgiving Day game will be facing a McDonald’s ad that reads: ‘Hungry as a Bear?’  

Tristan Kading November 15, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Mcdonalds is once again attempting to make itself present at Stonington High School. A decade ago, we pushed Mcdonalds out of our school when they came to give us a thinly veiled advertisement that they called an "employment skills seminar". We stood firm in saying NO to their presence in our schools as a corporation that damages our health, communities, and the world. I was personally embarrassed with the public humiliation of an apology to a faceless entity over the school PA system. Mcdonalds obsession with the bottom line while shilling out its low grade viddles has resulted in a business model where the elderly, the young, and the handicapped are employed at poverty level wages with few to no benefits. The advertisement itself is an idol to gluttony. The two layered burger stands tall, but offers little nutrition and is pushed on those who can't afford more healthful alternatives. The presence of this advertisement shows the extent to which Stonington to sell out the prosperity and health of it's young people, a captive audience at a community institution, for little more than a temporary cash boost. Where will Stonington draw the line when it comes to branding and selling out it's students? Tristan Kading
Patsy Crothers November 15, 2011 at 01:14 AM
Burgers aren'ty the only thing that McDonald's sells and if you think H.S. kids don't already go there think again.If you accept a job there you agree to the benefits or no benefits.I think it will help funding programs that need more money.. Yes, I vote for the scoreboard!!!
Tristan Kading November 15, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Yeah, they need the money! Why not just get Camel, Marlboro, and Newport to put up ads too while we are advertising dangerous products to youngsters. HS kids are already using those products, too, so who cares! Where do you draw the line when you begin prostituting public institutions as places for corporate advertisement? I hope the students stand up to this as we did in the past, because I would hate for my alma mater to become any more infamous for creepy relationships with questionable businesses.
Jonathan Salovitz November 15, 2011 at 01:04 PM
Especially if the advertisements themselves are going on a scoreboard for one of the high school's athletic teams I really can't find a problem with this. All of the kids playing on the sidelines and 99% of the people in the stands will be watching the Superbowl in a few months, where they'll be subjected to hours worth of advertisements about every evil consumer good under the sun. The point is that all of the giant corporations with revenue will advertise pretty much wherever and whenever they can. Why not responsibly take advantage of those opportunities? It's not a banner going up in the hallway, and there's nobody trying to hire high school kids at minimum wage. When everyone drives to SHS on Turkey Day they'll probably drive past at least one McDonalds and will surely see or hear some form of advertisement for the stupid gigantic yellow M. As long as we draw the line here, and let them buy us a new scoreboard for our football team, why not let them put up their silly logo with their stupid tagline? Then we can all joke about it later that day when everyone is eating Turkey and watching the NFL and laughing at the McDonald's commercials? And, we'll have a new scoreboard.
Matthew Mumford November 15, 2011 at 03:55 PM
To say that it already exists is copping out of the responsibility to control these corporations and where they place their advertisements. Just because they will be on the Super Bowl doesn't mean we should immediately allow as much as possible. Kading's comment is apt, comparing the fast food to cigarettes. We have to take the longview on topics like this, think about the consequences of innundating the impressionable youth at social events like this. We're not allowing Prada wall banners at proms, are we? Should we? I don't think so. We shouldn't be choking the children with all of this advertising. I wonder, however, where the people like Tristan are now in the High School, taking the proper routes to get this undone. Hopefully the adults in the PZC will consider their children's futures before they allow this to go through.
Chris Breen November 16, 2011 at 02:47 AM
I remember when Mr Kading was harassed by SHS officials and forced against his will to apologize publicly;apparently a young man speaking his mind wasn't allowed at SHS that day but administrators threatening and lying to a student was. Comparing this advertisement to one viewed on television is flawed logic. This is a public school and as such I expect it to be as free of advertising as much as I expect PBS or NPR to be free of advertising. Furthermore, a commercial is 30 seconds where as this is a static billboard that will be seen on a daily basis. Our students are already bombarded with enough commercials and consumerism on daily basis. Shouldn't we be holding our educational institutions to a higher standard? Moreover, where is the outrage that our school has reached the point where it needs a handout from McDonalds?
Jessica Morrissey November 21, 2011 at 10:32 PM
I applaud these young men's comments & analysis . Stonington HS should not have "sold out" to the big Mac! Better to have no scoreboard than to promote fast-food & unhealthy foods to our children on taxpayers' property! Where are the concerned parents in this equation?
Wendy Cekala November 22, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Good luck finding a fast food bag in our garbage. I treat my future athlete to home cooked meals, and when they aren't home cooked, we aren't purchasing them whilst in the car. Time to go back to basics on all fronts....home cooked meals, dinner at the table, discussions of what our days entailed....it builds strong relationships and a true love for good, healthy food. People, throw away fast food and your microwaves, you'll save much on both fronts!!!

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