What's in a name? For the Petaluma City School's District, a name could mean a new track for Casa Grande High School, a refurbished gym for Petaluma High School and any number of major projects the district cannot afford. In short, it could mean big bucks.
According to school board's policy on naming school facilities, revised in March of last year: "The board may grant to any person or entity the right to name any district building or facility."
There are several restrictions on who or what the facilities may be named for, and naming rights are subject to a written contract with the school district, but the policy does allow for naming rights to be, in effect, sold.
This means that a wealthy individual or private company could earn the right to name a track, gym, or other facility through a large enough donation.
As far as anyone knows, naming rights have never been granted in exchange for monetary contributions directed toward a particular facility. Several buildings and facilities have been named for individuals, but were done to honor those individuals who have provided especially meritorious service to a particular school. Three years ago, the Casa Grande High School gymnasium was named the Coach Ed Iacopi Gymnasium in honor of long-time Casa Grande basketball coach Ed Iacopi. Last fall, the football field at Petaluma High School was renamed Steve Ellison Field to honor 33-year Petaluma football coach Steve Ellison.
But with the Petaluma City Schools District, like other California school districts, experiencing ever-tightening budgets, new means are being sought to fund large capital improvement projects.
The issue of naming rights recently surfaced as the district and its boosters sought new ways to fund major capital improvements at both Casa Grande and Petaluma high schools.
A community effort to resurface and refurbish the track facility at Casa Grande High School has already raised close to $100,000, but the cost for the project is estimated to be around $800,000. The group spearheading the effort has raised the possibility of selling naming rights to help raise a sizeable portion of the funds needed for the project.
Casa Grande has not been able to host a home track meet in at least six years and is often unable to practice on its worn cinder track that cracks in hot weather and turns to muddy goo in rain.
The east-side school is one of only two large schools in the Redwood Empire that does not have an all-weather track.
There is also an effort underway to replace the floor and make other repairs to the gymnasium at Petaluma High School. The cost for that project has yet to be determined, but officials believe it will be somewhere near the cost for the Casa Grande track.
According to Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Steve Bolman, the district doesn't have the money for either project.
"We don't have any facilities funds to speak of," he acknowledged.
Bolman said selling naming rights would be an option instead of going to the taxpayers to pass a general obligation bond measure, which would require 55 percent voter approval.
"It might be a creative solution instead of just tapping taxpayers every time," he said. "It's been done in other communities and it seems to work well."