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Councilwoman Says Ads On School Buses Can Help Close Budget Gap

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A Philadelphia City councilwoman has a plan to boost the revenues of the city's cash-starved school district -- by plastering the district's yellow school buses with advertising.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown is introducing a plan Thursday for what she admits would be a controversial money stream.

"If we win approval from the state, this bill will allow the city of Philadelphia to place advertisements on the back of school buses."

Not just the backs of the 1,200 buses, but the sides as well. And the revenues would be earmarked for the schools. The councilwoman says she does not yet have an estimate on the amount of money this could generate.

The plan prohibits alcohol, tobacco or political ads on the buses, and Reynolds Brown says prohibitions on other products may be needed.

"That's something we do need to be especially careful about as we go down this road."

Private buses used by the students, and SEPTA buses, would not be affected.

Reynolds Brown expects the idea to face opposition, just like a related plan she floated last week. That proposal would have city bars staying open an hour later -- until 3 a.m., with those tax revenues also earmarked for the district.

"We have to do some things differently, and we cannot be stuck in old ways of doing things, when the problems we're looking at are so big."

Both ideas require enabling legislation from Harrisburg, and both will be debated in council committee hearings.

Reynolds Brown says other states including Texas and Colorado, raise revenues with ads on school buses.

"We need to at least be open to the conversation, and invite criticism and feedback that guides us to do this in the most responsible way."

The School Reform Commission says the district still has to close a $61 million budget gap by the end of May, and faces new deficits in the next fiscal year nearing $250 million.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz last week said he believes the current deficit is actually nearing $80 million.

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