Residents: Alcohol ads, yearbooks are bad mix
The school board has taken no action, but Superintendent Norm Fjelstad advised Principal Mark Coombs to give the school board a list of advertisers for the school’s 2011 yearbook with alcohol-based businesses removed.
Fjelstad said the list would be due to the board by September and that Coombs could use his discretion to determine which businesses primarily sell or promote the sale of alcohol.
For decades, the school district has allowed local businesses, including establishments that sell alcohol, to pay for advertisements to cover costs of publishing the annual school yearbook.
The practice dates back to the 1960’s, officials said this week.
Now, a few local activists are urging school officials to cut bar and grill, tavern, and liquor store advertisements from the yearbook, arguing the advertising sends the wrong message to Edgerton youths.
One activist, Ken Kidder of Edgerton, spoke to the school board Monday night, calling the advertisements a “common denominator” in a local culture that encourages glorifying alcohol.
He pointed out five bar and grill advertisements in the 2010 yearbook that he said emphasize alcohol use.
Kidder said he’s checked other school yearbooks and can’t find any others that run alcohol-related advertisements.
“When you’re a freshman and when you get a yearbook, you have that yearbook for the rest of your life,” Kidder told the board Monday.
Another activist, Marv Wopat, of Milton, a Rock County Board member and an addiction counselor, gave the board an analogy:
“If the number one killer of our kids was orange juice, and we all knew it … I don’t believe that we would allow businesses that predominantly make their money selling orange juice to be in the yearbooks,” he said.
School board member Craig Strouse said he doesn’t buy arguments that local businesses that advertise in the school yearbook are part of an insidious ploy to spur youth drinking.
“You can’t think these businesses are sophisticated enough to be targeting these young people through these yearbook ads,” he said.
Wopat agreed it’s unlikely the advertisements purposely target teens. He said he believes the ads have simply been going into the yearbook for so long people have stopped noticing them.
“I just believe it was an oversight,” Wopat said. “You just glance at the ad and you keep moving.”
Board member Amy Richardson said some advertisements in the yearbook show photos of high school students who work at certain local bar and grills, with congratulatory captions paid for by the establishments.
Richardson argued it’s “a bit of a stretch” to consider those advertisements blatant promotions of underage alcohol use.
Fjelstad told the board, Kidder and Wopat he’d never heard complaints about the advertisements, but said Kidder’s and Wopat’s concerns were reasonable.
Fjelstad said he believed local advertisers buy slots in the school yearbook in the spirit of community support.
“I don’t believe that they come knocking on our door to give us money,” he said.
Other advertisers in the yearbook include local realtors, tanning salons, lumber yards, grocery stores and insurance companies, officials said.
In all, the ads, which are solicited by students, funnel about $5,500 in revenue into the yearbook program. Without them, Coombs told the board, the cost of yearbooks would increase by about $15 a copy.
Coombs said other school districts, including Milton, have no paid advertising in their yearbooks. He said school officials haven’t looked into alternate funding sources for the school’s yearbook.