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Newton

Naming could be cash cow

By Deirdre Fernandes
Globe Staff / April 29, 2012
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What’s in a name? The Newton Schools Foundation hopes the answer is big money.

The foundation plans to launch a campaign this fall to raise between $3 million and $6 million for school technology in three years by selling the naming rights to public educational spaces, primarily in the city’s two high schools.

The foundation is betting that famous alumni, local businesses, and some Newton families have deeper pockets than the city’s taxpayers. And more importantly, that they might be eager to pay thousands to have their names tagged on auditoriums, science labs, art studios, and athletic fields.

Imagine the Village Bank Athletic Field, perhaps the D’Agostino Associates teachers’ lounge, or maybe even the John Krasinski Front Office, named for the Newton South alum who stars in “The Office.”

The money raised by the campaign would pay for additional technology equipment in all of the city’s schools, said Liz Richardson, a copresident of the Newton Schools Foundation Board.

“I do think it will resonate with people,” Richardson said. “It’s about teaching and learning for the future.”

Newton’s School Committee has already approved a memorandum of understanding with the foundation. Soon the city’s aldermen will study the fund-raising plan and decide whether to create a revolving fund for the donations.

But not everybody is sold on the campaign. With so many building needs in the school district, Alderwoman Amy Mah Sangiolo said she isn’t sure that technology is the best use for the money.

Over three years, the city would also have to pay the foundation an estimated $320,000 to cover the costs of the campaign, Sangiolo said.

Among the expenses that Newton would cover are printing, advertising, part of the salaries of the foundation’s executive and development director, and a required audit. The costs would be about 5 percent of a potential $6 million campaign.

The foundation has tried to keep expenses down, said Richardson. And the primary fund-raisers are donating their time and expertise, she said.

In a time of tightening budgets and growing needs, other public schools have taken a cue from preparatory academies and universities and turned to naming rights as a money-maker.

Gloucester last year agreed to rebrand Newell Stadium as The New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium, after the athletic shoe company donated $500,000 to help repair the facility.

Newburyport High School’s field — which is part of a stadium built in the 1930s to get unemployed men back to work during the Great Depression — will be named for a local bank. After the bank pledged $500,000 this year to upgrade the stadium, students will play at the Institution for Savings Field at World War Memorial Stadium.

The deals provide schools with money and companies with an opportunity to reach potential customers and burnish their charitable credentials.

“It’s a lot better than advertising,” said Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. “You can generate a significant contribution.”

As long as spaces aren’t named for educationally inappropriate corporations, such as beer companies, most communities have accepted the deal, said Koocher.

Parents and children are used to seeing school buildings splashed with names, Koocher said. Schools are often named in honor of local historical figures, and auditoriums and fields in memory of beloved teachers and coaches.

Jonathan Yeo, a Newton School Committee member, said he thinks the city will avoid any name-calling over this effort.

The foundation members and Newton school officials will decide which names are appropriate for a school building, Yeo said.

“We’re not going to have flashing lights on the top of the schools saying ‘X’ company,” Yeo said. “We’re going to be able to do it in a sensitive manner that doesn’t distract from the mission of the school.”

Newton North High School is still new, making this a good time to launch a naming rights campaign, said Alderman Stephen Linksy.

But exactly how Newton structures the campaign needs to be worked out.

“I am very excited,” Linksy said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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