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Struggling with slashed budgets and hiring freezes, the New York City Board of Education hopes to turn school buses into ad revenue.

The board, presiding over the U.S.' largest school system with more than 1 million students, has begun taking bids from agencies and outdoor media companies willing to absorb start-up costs and share ad profits on more than half of its 3,800 school buses, hoping for contracts by early January.

One of those bids will come from Transportation Displays Inc., which sees the ads as a way to get a piece of high schoolers' discretionary funds and a way to build brand loyalty, said Jodi Yegelwel, senior VP-marketing.

Only "soft advertising" or ads with "positive messages" will be allowed, said Michael Coneys, school board attorney responsible for developing alternative revenue. For example, Mr. Coneys said he envisions a Nike ad in which Michael Jordan, in full Nike attire, endorses education or transportation safety.

"We want messages for our students and we want income," he said. "Anything that will reinforce a positive image for the school, anything that will encourage them to be better students."

Opposition to the bus ad plan has been virtually non-existent.

Even without asking, most advertisers in Colorado Springs, Colo.-the school district that pioneered the school bus advertising concept (AA, Feb. 13)-have chosen soft advertising, said Pat Riley, partner at O'Donnell & Riley, the agency managing the project.

Local businesses and local franchises have bought ad space. Burger King even allowed students to design ads on the five high school buses it sponsored with only a logo to identify the chain.

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