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Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as PTA's Corporate-Sponsorship Deal With Office Depot Draws Criticism

PTA's Corporate-Sponsorship Deal With Office Depot Draws Criticism

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When it comes to raising money, the National PTA has moved way beyond bake sales.

The organization has lent its name and logo to the Office Depot chain of office-supply stores for an undisclosed fee. The arrangement is part of a back-to-school advertising campaign and sponsorship program that will provide PTA members with coupons they can redeem for store goods.

Critics say the deal demeans the nonprofit organization.

Office Depot launched the Supporting School Values program last month, placing the National PTA's name, logo, telephone number, and World Wide Web address on advertisements, including 90 million newspaper inserts, television commercials, coupon books, shopping bags, and signs. A recorded phone message at the company's headquarters in Delray Beach, Fla., says it is "the office school supply headquarters of the National PTA."

In return, the company sent store coupons to many of the organization's 6.5 million members and is running a sweepstakes contest in which 40 schools will each receive $5,000 to buy school supplies, said Patty Yoxall, a spokeswoman for the National PTA. The company also provided laptop computers for state PTA offices and the national headquarters in Chicago.

Endorsement Defended

"Why are we taking this step? Because public education is not fully funded in the country," Ms. Yoxall said. "Because schools are crying out for revenue sources."

Linking the respected organization's name with a commercial endeavor is the wrong way to generate money, said Alex Molnar, the director of the Center for Analysis of Commercialism in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"This is a big mistake," said Mr. Molnar, who has worked with the National PTA in its fight against advertising in schools. "I can't imagine the thinking that went on in this decision."

Such deals can be extremely dangerous, Mr. Molnar warned: "There is a possibility that over time your organization will be diverted from its central purpose."

While Ms. Yoxall confirmed the organization's opposition to advertising in education, she said the contract doesn't interfere with the learning process or require students or parents to participate in the sweepstakes contest.

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 19

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