Click photo to enlarge
Burrell Field is photographed in San Leandro, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. The field that is used by San Leandro High School will soon be torn down to make way for a new multi-million dollar sports complex. (Anda Chu/Staff)

SAN LEANDRO -- Plans for an electronic billboard that would flash moneymaking ads at Burrell Field are moving forward with the blessing of the school board.

The billboard proposal was discussed by San Leandro Unified's facilities and technology committee several months ago when members were brainstorming ways to raise money for Burrell's operation, upkeep and eventual replacement costs for the synthetic turf currently being installed during a field renovation. After a public discussion earlier this month, the school board informally gave district staff the green light to pursue the project.

Low-end estimates are that the billboard's advertising could raise $8,500 a month for the district, Superintendent Cindy Cathey said. A request for project proposals will be publicized sometime in the coming weeks, she said.

The company hired to erect the billboard will be responsible for securing advertisers, though district officials will ensure the ads are appropriate, district officials said. "There are pretty strict requirements for advertising on school property," Cathey said.

Prohibited ads include those for movies unsuitable for children, anything obscene, libelous or slanderous, promotion of the sale of items off-limits to minors, like alcohol or tobacco, or ads that promote or attack any particular interest, political candidate or party.

Current board policy states, "students in our schools should focus on educational matters and not be the target of advertising," and advertisements by for-profit companies are not allowed on school communications, but companies can buy ad space in the yearbook, Cathey said. The policy also states, "Students shall not be exploited to raise money, and time spent securing ads shall not infringe upon the school program."

Determination of whether the billboard will face only Interstate 880 or the football field, or both, and its height and size will be made during the request for proposals process, though a 25-foot billboard was discussed for the site, less than half the height of the 70-foot tall electronic billboard at Marina Auto Row.

About $16.8 million in bond-funded renovations are currently under way at Burrell Field, located on Teagarden Street next to I-880 just south of Marina Boulevard. Work began last April to overhaul the 50-year-old field, home to San Leandro High's football games, and surrounding facilities.

Cathey said budget problems are prompting districts, like San Leandro, to turn to ads for funding.

"Given the fiscal situation, even with the passage of Prop. 30, the fiscal situation for districts across the nation, but certainly in California, this is something that more and more districts are doing so it's not so uncommon as it was before," she said.

A report on commercial activities in schools by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2000 found the trend began even before the recession and cuts to education by the state.

"The amount and types of direct advertising in schools nationwide have increased and changed over the last decade," the report found, including ads on billboards, in sports programs, on school buses and even the roof of a school near a major airport.

At the same time, according to a 2006 policy brief by the California School Boards Association on school-based marketing of food and beverages, "Commercial activities in schools are coming under scrutiny from parents, teachers, advocacy groups, and others." The association urged districts to consider the impact to student health of allowing ads inconsistent with the district nutrition education and recommended districts "engage in thoughtful discussions with their communities on the pros and cons of commercial activities."

Additions under way at Burrell include a new synthetic turf at the football, soccer and softball fields, an all-weather track, 3,500 seat bleachers, a press box, scoreboard, field lights, fencing, restrooms, snack bars, ticket booth, team rooms and parking.

The field -- to be renamed the Pacific Sports Complex and Burrell Field -- is expected to be finished by midsummer. No bond funds will be spent on the electronic billboard project, district officials said.

Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.