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Mars school board to revise billboard advertising policy

The Mars Area School Board is considering revising its billboard advertising policy after several organizations expressed confusion and outrage over the policy at the board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The policy gives the Mars Planet Foundation exclusive permission to post or remove seasonal and annual advertising on fences at outdoor district facilities and/or all district scoreboards through its fundraising campaign.

That right was given to the foundation in 2016; however an issue arose when the foundation failed to collect payment over the course of several years for advertisements from some school affiliated organizations, or SAOs, leading those organizations to believe that they didn’t have to pay for the signage.

The issue dates back to June, when Mars Planet Foundation president Beth Ziegler spoke to the school board about advertisements related to the scoreboard at the Mars Athletic Complex. It was at that meeting where board members questioned how much money the foundation made off the signage, with 32 banners of organizations not having paid fees. Since then, while no collection invoices have been sent to the organizations, the foundation has reached out to several to inform them about the policy, which has led to the board discussing the issue on Tuesday.

“Our issue is that there’s a policy in place, and we were told in June that we were not enforcing the policy at a significant revenue loss,” said Ziegler, who said the school board told her to enforce the policy in June. “When we attempted to enforce the policy, there was pushback from other organizations, and understandably so, as the policy had not been enforced for a few years.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Tanya Yoshioka of the Mars cheerleading boosters said the group doesn’t think organizations should have to pay the mark-up cost that the foundation charges to hang signage, since it is more than twice the cost of their banner. Ziegler said that the mark-up is due to the time spent on approving the banner and hanging it, in addition to the costs of the banner, and as a fundraiser for the foundation.

There was confusion as to whether a temporary banner, which is only up during events, such as the banner the cheerleaders use, falls under the policy. Several board members clarified that temporary banners do not fall under the policy and that only seasonal banners are required to go through the Mars Planet Foundation.

The school board approved limiting the foundation to only charging school-associated organizations the cost of the banner, on a 8-1 vote, with Kevin Hagen voting against the measure. The board also made clear its intention to overhaul the policy at October’s meeting, which might include the school district handling banners for organizations.

“I certainly don’t want to hurt their fundraising endeavors that they do on their own,” said board member Megan Lentz, who put forth the vote to limit the cost to organizations and recommended revisiting the entire policy in October.

Ziegler said that she’d have to get the foundation’s board to approve selling banners to organizations at the banner’s cost. However, she said she is not opposed to separating the school organization portion from the policy, a recommendation made by Lentz and echoed by several board members, as long as it doesn’t prevent them from continuing to sell advertisements to businesses.

“If they were to separate the two, that’s fine,” Ziegler said. “And if the district wants to handle SAOs, that’s fine as well.”

The Mars Planet Foundation uses the money raised from advertisements to fund grants for teachers and scholarships for graduating students. After the meeting, Ziegler expressed concern about how the issue may have hurt the reputation of the foundation and expressed a desire to have the situation resolved soon.

“We don’t want to upset other SAOs,” said Ziegler. “We respect what they do and the value they bring to the district. We were attempting to comply with the instructions we were given at the June school board meeting. And because we were not supported after that, our reputation has taken some hits. We’re concerned about that.”

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