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11:25 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Schools' boss says ads boost budget

PRESCOTT – In the past three years, the Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) spent $135,000 in rental income money on advertising, and Superintendent Kevin Kapp estimates that the advertising has led to an increase in the regular budget of almost $1 million in student enrollment growth money.

Ed Kahn, a Prescott lawyer who has expressed opposition to the use of district money for an advertising campaign, said last week that while more students bring more state money, "money from the state doesn't grow on trees. That money comes from you and me.

"They could use that money for other purposes," he said, adding that "school districts should not be in the business of recruiting students."

Kapp said recruiting is just what the district is doing with its marketing program. After a 7-year decline in enrollment, the PUSD governing board during the 2001-02 school year formed a committee to develop a marketing program to stop enrollment decline.

During that year, the board approved using $35,000 from the Civic Center fund, which comes from renting out district properties (it totals about $80,000 each year). In each of the 2002-03 and the 2003-04 years the board approved taking $25,000 from that same fund and $25,000 in carryover from the district's Food Service program.

Abbie Roses, owner of Abbie Roses Communications, whom the district hired along with Kirk Designs to create its marketing program, said she developed 60 projects designed to help the district achieve enrollment goals. The projects include newspaper, movie theater and television advertisements, brochures and banners on buses.

Kapp acknowledged that the district could transfer money from the Civic Center fund or the Food Service carryover to pay for supplies or even salaries. He said he would not use that money for salaries, though, because it's not permanent income.

He believes the money the district spends on marketing (from outside the regular budget) comes back 15-fold in state student enrollment dollars at about $4,000 per student, and goes into the regular budget. He said it doesn't cost that much to educate each student – "you bring in more money than it costs to pay for the growth."

In that case, Kahn said, the district should give the leftover money back to the taxpayers.

Each district can apply to the state for sudden growth money. If the state approves the application, it will send the district money per student in the current year, and will increase the district's budget base by the same amount the next year. In effect, the district gets the money twice, Kapp said.

Kahn argued that in that case, taxpayers have to pay twice.

Additional money, Kapp said, helps the district maintain or expand programs such as art, music and P.E.

Districts should spend money on the basics of education, not on programs such as art and sports, Kahn said.

"The key ought to be educating the child in the classroom," he said.

As for using that money to pay for some of the items on the bond issue, he said all the district's capital needs are so great that even $50,000 is "a drop in the bucket."

While Kahn said he doesn't mind paying some taxes to educate children, he said he does mind a school district pulling more and more money from his pockets. He said a district should never have to float a bond and go into debt.

The money the district gets for enrollment growth, Kapp said, helps the district better educate the students in Prescott's community. And a better school system means a better community, he said.

"If they're doing their job the way they're supposed to," Kahn said, "they shouldn't have to advertise."

What it comes down to, Kapp said, is "it was a choice."

A choice, he said, that has paid off.

Contact the reporter at heller@prescottaz.com