Schools should proceed with caution on naming rights

South Bend Tribune

Cash-strapped public school systems are turning to new and creative ways to come up with money to help meet schools’ needs.

Recently, Mishawaka schools became the latest to sell naming rights to its facilities when Teachers Credit Union and School City entered into an agreement to name the new technology space at John Young Middle School the “TCU Innovation Lab.” In exchange, TCU is donating $300,000 to the Mishawaka Education Foundation — $30,000 per year for 10 years.

At Penn-Harris-Madison schools last year, Mishawaka-based Zolman’s Tire & Auto Care agreed to donate $25,000 to the P-H-M Education Foundation to have a concession stand at TCU Freed Field named for Zolman’s. And Jordan Automotive agreed to make a donation to put its name on the high school’s baseball field.

School City of Mishawaka Superintendent Dean Speicher said School City’s agreement was hammered out over the course of a year to 18 months.

“You have to look for alternative ways to find revenue if you’re going to survive in this world today,” Speicher told The Tribune in a telephone interview.

Competition for both students and funding is becoming fierce among schools, and having individuals or businesses donate money in exchange for their name being attached to a program or facility is one way to guarantee more money for the school, at least for the term of a contract.

But naming rights involving public schools here is relatively new and there are questions regarding its long-term impact.

Private financing for public schools does carry a certain amount of risk, according to a New York Times report.

For instance, what happens if the money dries up? Will the donors have a disproportionate role in shaping policy? If public schools receive more private funding, how will that change public support of schools?

It could potentially be a slippery slope if the contracts are not handled appropriately.

Speicher said schools must be very selective in forming partnerships and that there should be “some history with them over a period of time and a high level of trust.”

He also anticipates more such agreements. “We have to find ways to support athletics, academic competitions and fine arts programs,” Speicher said.

We understand schools must explore every available source of funding. And while we don’t have an objection to naming rights, we do raise a large “proceed with caution” sign.

A contract that’s good for a donor must also be good — beyond dollars and cents — for the schools.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.