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Published: Wednesday, 10/11/2006

Board studying ads to boost enrollment

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Bedford Public School Board is discussing plans to advertise the school district more aggressively to help raise declining enrollment.

While official enrollment numbers will not be available until November, early estimates indicate enrollment has dropped by about 30 students this year.

Board member Dale Barton suggested placing advertisements in the Toledo area to draw more people to Bedford Township based on the quality of its schools.

Monroe County's population has increased 6.7 percent since 2000, according to 2006 estimates from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Much of that gain has occurred in Bedford Township, which has added 2,814 residents since the 2000 U.S. Census put the population at 28,606.

Bedford Township Clerk Bob Schockman said the township board has not thought of advertising and said he doesn't think it's necessary.

"We are well known in the Toledo market already. The vast majority of residents we have are from the Toledo metropolitan area," Mr. Schockman said.

Mr. Barton said he thought of advertising Bedford Public Schools after noticing Adrian Public Schools' recent marketing campaign.

Adrian's school district has spent $4,000 to $10,000 each year for the last three years marketing itself on radio, television, online, and in newspapers.

It had been losing about 100 students a year for the last 10 years, but because of the recent marketing blitz, this year the district has managed to cut its losses by about a third, according to Karla Holmes, Adrian schools' marketing director.

"We are out there competing with other districts for students," Ms. Holmes said. "Competition is good, but competition can sometimes become too costly in time and effort.

"And when we have to use our money that could be going into the classroom to market our classrooms, is that the best use of our money?"

The Adrian school district is in part advertising itself so heavily because it is near the end of a three-year, $50 million renovation project and "so we were trying very hard to bring our students back," Ms. Holmes said.

Bedford Public Schools Superintendent Jon White said he is not yet certain the Bedford school district will produce any advertisements, but he said the district is always looking for ways to promote itself.ways to promote itself.

"We would not really be competing with anyone in particular. We are just discussing what we can do to get the good word out about our particular district," Mr. White said.

He said the target of these advertisements could be "anyone who is living in the area, or is contemplating moving to the area or for one reason or another may be contemplating sending their kids to private schools."

Michigan's Schools of Choice program allows students to enroll in districts where they are not residents, as long as those students reside within the same intermediate school district.

But in Monroe County, where advertising is concerned, things are a bit more precarious.

The county's schools have a "gentleman's agreement" not to poach each others students.

"We have a fine line to walk because all the schools in Monroe have agreed that we will not compete against each other for students," Mr. White said.

Ms. Holmes, Adrian's marketing director, raised the question of how you can market yourself without competing against another, intentionally or not.

"But really, how do you inform without competing? I'm not sure how you do that," she said.

But there is no agreement, gentlemanly or otherwise, barring competition between Toledo and Bedford Township for residents.

Debby Kuhl, Bedford's assistant superintendent of instruction and student services, said she would simply like to make people aware of what her school district has to offer.

"We would like to publicize all the things that we do well so that people of course want to come to our district," Ms. Kuhl said.

"I think, even beyond the schools, Bedford is a very appealing community," Ms. Kuhl said.

"But if people are thinking about changing communities, they may not even consider Bedford if they do not know how good the school system is. The point [of advertising] would be to broaden people's horizons."

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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