By Geoff Mulvihill
The Associated Press
BROOKLAWN, N.J. - Students at Alice Costello School don't go to "the gym" to shoot baskets or "the library" to read books.
Thanks to the school district's sale of naming rights, they get their exercise at the ShopRite of Brooklawn Center and flip through books at the Flowers Library and Media Center.
A student at the Alice Costello Elementary School walks past the Flowers Library and Media Center in Brooklawn, N.J.
If officials get their way, the students might not even attend Alice Costello School anymore - a new name could be chosen by the highest bidder on eBay.
The grade school's corporate naming blitz has been criticized by some - back in 2001, Sports Illustrated called the renamed gym "This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse." But as voters weigh an unpopular property tax increase to balance school budgets, the school is being touted as a model of creative fund-raising.
"Anything a school can do to be entrepreneurial, so much the better," said Dana Egreczky, a vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
Voters across New Jersey will decide Tuesday whether to approve local school budgets. It will be the first time since Brooklawn began selling naming rights in 2001 that local voters have been asked to raise their property taxes.
Superintendent John Kellmayer says if the state did more for the one-school district of 300 students near Camden, such unusual efforts would not be needed.
"A lot of smaller districts are fighting for their survival. What we're doing here is going to be the norm in 10 years," Kellmayer said.
Across the country, corporate underwriting has become common at many schools - from advertisements in yearbooks to company-sponsored sports scoreboards and band uniforms. Several states allow limited advertising on school buses.
The Brooklawn school has an arrangement with Pepsi that is fairly common. The soft drink maker has all the soda machines in the school and the district gets a cut of the proceeds, about $3,000 per year.
But the district's naming rights effort went a step further, starting 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.
Naming rights for the new library were sold to the local Flowers family for $100,000.
The sponsorship deals have been ridiculed on talk radio and in other media. But Bruce Darrow, school board president, said he is not deterred by bad publicity.
"The only thing I regret now is ShopRite got off so cheap," he said.
Darrow has some other ideas, such as placing ads on the sport teams' jerseys or company logos in the basketball court's free-throw lanes. He doesn't like the idea of requiring school uniforms, though if ads could be put on them, he'll listen.
But it's his idea of selling the right to name the entire school that is likely to create waves.
The concept is not a new one, but so far it is rare. The cash-strapped Belmont-Redwood Shores School District in California is looking for corporate sponsors. Marilyn Sanchez, assistant to the superintendent, said companies would not be allowed to entirely rename the school. For example, the Central School could become known as something like "Central School, sponsored by Intel Corp."
Kellmayer said he has talked to eBay about auctioning naming rights, but so far it's only an idea.
Lynn Heslin, whose 13-year-old daughter Amber is in seventh grade at Costello, says she's open to the idea of renaming the school if it would benefit students.
But Kathleen Maass, a former school board president, said she would vote against changing the school's name, which honors a former teacher and principal.
"There are some things that shouldn't be for sale," Maass said. "Alice Costello did a lot for the school and I don't think they should sell her name."
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