The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Larry Leach Headshot

Public, Corporate Funded Education in Calgary - Is this Good?

Posted: Updated:

The Calgary Board of Education has recently opened the door to the naming of classrooms to corporate sponsorship. In the recently amended CBE policies AR 7009 and AR 8000 it is stated "The CBE also acknowledges the
importance of naming physical spaces and educational programs in recognition
of contributions made to the CBE by donors and sponsors."

In consideration of the merit of this policy change, one must understand the function of a corporation. It's only legal obligation is to make a profit for shareholders to enhance shareholder value. So, while many corporations have a strong effort in giving to community and charitable organizations, it must first justify these donations to a board of directors in a way which can lead to profit. Goodwill is a quantifiable marketing cost.

One must also consider a uniquely Alberta scenario whereby Private schools are funded in part by taxpayers and Charter Schools are funded as a public school, resulting in Public and Separate School boards competing with many of these specialized programs, which puts pressure on the public systems to offer a wide variety of specialized programs, some of which, come at great cost. So if Private Schools can name a classroom after a corporation, and a Charter School can, then why not the Public Board? If you wanted to attract science students, the Red Bull robotics lab would be a great draw.

It is important to note that the CBE Board of Trustee's would have to approve the naming of classrooms. There are also significant corporate donors who have been recognized by the board from time to time with a Lighthouse award, given at Public Board meetings and publicly acknowledged on the CBE website. These corporations are obviously happy with this recognition as many continue over a five or ten year program.

The strength of the Calgary Board of Education in this competitive environment is it's size. 104,000 students and over 200 schools. So dealing from this strength, lets take a look at the example of the International Olympic Committee as to how I would suggest they go. Coca Cola, the world's number one advertiser, and other Olympic sponsors spent $100 million to be a worldwide sponsor for the London and Vancouver Olympics. And what does the company get for it's $100 million? Product exclusivity and the right to say they are a sponsor, that's it. No venue naming, no event naming, no signage at the venues, no advertising on the athlete uniforms or apparatus. For all the greed that seems to go along with the Olympic brand and all the revenues it attracts, the sporting events, athletes and venues are still without advertising. One might think "WOW" until you consider Coca Cola spent $3.3 billion on advertising in 2011 and a whopping $5.8 billion on marketing local bottlers. One would think that all of their ads in 2011 referred to London 2012 along with the bottling and marketing. So they spent $9.1 billion to tell people they were and Olympic sponsor, making the $100 Million a sliver in the overall budget.

So what is the value of saying you are the sponsor of a school board? One must look at the contribution of past donors to get an idea of what that value might be. To some corporations, the value of being an exclusive supplier may have more value to a computer company or a school/office supplies company than a breakfast cereal company. I am certain a look at all the data will reveal a reasonable charge for a company to become the "Official Supplier" or "Official Sponsor" of the Calgary Board of Education. That company can then promote the fact that they help fund your children's education without the blatant in-school advertising that can affect your children and stay with them for a lifetime.

Naming of classrooms or programs leads to some very fundamental questions about public education and has many drawbacks. One of which is if you allow Coca Cola a five year deal on a school gym, why not another school sponsored by Pepsi? If they can sponsor a high school gym, how about a junior high? A middle school? An elementary? It might even land you in the courtroom if you try and pick and choose which companies fit the CBE brand and which don't. This is a government funded public education system, not a corporation who can choose who it does business with for whatever reason. Not to mention that we vote every four years for trustees. Will corporations now start to fund trustee campaigns so they can get naming rights for all of the school offices? Will companies that already contribute to provincial election campaigns influence these decisions? The slippery slope this starts has many facets that may never be able to be reversed once started. Think of the implications.

We have all heard the downside of marketing to children. Let's look at this in a way where the company gets what they want in terms of recognition without burdening children with marketing images when they are trying to learn. If not, we may be faced with the McDonalds end of day Bell, the Tim Horton's morning bell, the Sport Chek gymnasium, the Staples school office, the Disney music room and the Monsanto cafeteria. Where do you stop once you get started?