School districts use taxpayer referendum approach to enhance naming rights

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As school districts struggle financially across the state, some are taking an alternative approach to the taxpayer referendum, and it seems to be working out.

Naming rights have been used for years in the Milwaukee area as with Miller Park and American Family Field. Well, school districts are getting on board too, and the money is flowing in.

"Palermo's for $100,000, Sendick's for $50,000, Aurora for $50,000, Newman Chevrolet for $25,000," said Dr. Jeff Nelson, Grafton School District Superintendent.

Those are just a handful of sponsors that stepped forward to support the Grafton School District in 2016 after a referendum that included athletic complex upgrades failed.

"So we launched a capital campaign to fund our fields, for both softball, soccer, baseball, our track, our stadium field and so forth," said Dr. Nelson.

And it worked.

"So phase one was the exterior of the facility, putting new fencing up and signage and phase two which we just finished fundraising for is putting turf on the stadium and putting a brand new track around the track," said Dr. Nelson.

Grafton received $750,000 to make this the Acuity Fieldhouse, giving Acuity naming rights for 20 years.

"It's really shown a ton of pride in Grafton," said Dr. Nelson.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is seeing this more and more lately.

"So districts are forced to look for alternative revenue streams. If a district's gonna go this path they should discuss and have a policy, parameters where they would accept, how they would accept, what they would name, and then be dictated by that policy," said Bob Soldner, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Assistant Director, School Financial Services Team.

In 2020, the New Berlin School District was tasked with finding non-taxpayer funding.

"This is one of the things that we thought we could do, selling naming rights to our facilities. Our field house here at West is now the Drexel Field House. They signed a ten year, $150,000 deal with us at the start of the school year. We also have our soccer and softball complexes outdoors right here at West. That's been named after, that's the Ohow Athletic Complex," said David Cotey, New Berlin School District Communications Coordinator.

David Cotey sees the partnership as a win for all businesses, schools and students. New Berlin is not using the money right now, but rather, saving it for when they do.

"And then when it's time to put turf on a field, or improve a stadium or whatever it may be, we'll have some of that money available because of these naming rights," said Cotey.

This is a packet of sponsorship opportunities the New Berlin School District put together. Things like their Performing Arts Center, baseball practice fields and scoreboard are still available.

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