BROOKLAWN, N.J. - The First Union Center. Invesco Field at Mile High. The ShopRite of Brooklawn Gymnasium?
Rocketing itself into the world of corporate sponsorship, the tiny, blue-collar New Jersey borough of Brooklawn has announced that it will name its new elementary-school gym after the only supermarket in town - in return for a donation of $100,000.
"In an era of scarce resources, we have to take a look at nontraditional ways to generate revenues for our school," said John Kellmayer, superintendent of the single-school district. "American corporations spend billions of dollars on the Olympics. All we're saying is: Why don't you spend some of that on our public schools?"
Brown's Super Stores, owner of the Brooklawn ShopRite, has signed a deal that will provide $100,000 over 20 years in return for naming the gym, expected to be built by next fall.
While corporate sponsorship is on the rise among college and high school sports teams, and some secondary schools sell certain sodas exclusively in return for funding for athletic facilities, an expert on school funding called Brooklawn's deal highly unusual.
"I've never heard of sponsorship" at the elementary school level, said Edward Kealy, executive director of the nonprofit Committee for Education Funding. "It's a pretty hefty amount for one supermarket chain and a tiny school district."
Representatives of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania School Boards Associations said they did not know of any other school district that has secured a corporate sponsor.
Brooklawn's Alice Costello School has 300 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade. In a borough that is home to numerous American Legion baseball champion teams and the original Ponzio's Diner, the district is ranked by New Jersey as one of its poorest.
It falls into the same financial category as its larger neighbor, Gloucester City, but receives none of the special help that Gloucester City gets. Gloucester City is one of New Jersey's 30 court-designated special-needs districts and receives the bulk of its funding from the state.
"The kids of Gloucester City and Camden get new libraries and new gyms built by the state," Kellmayer said. "We want to give our kids the same resources, and we can't raise taxes."
Brooklawn, which has no public library, gym facilities or technology center, will next set its sights on finding corporate sponsors to fund those projects, Kellmayer said.
The capitalistic system
"We've been talking to fairly large corporations in the financial industry, publishing industry," he said, declining to name them. "Maybe people are uncomfortable with this, but we're achieving our goals through the capitalistic system, and we've found that corporations are very willing to talk with us."
The ShopRite deal is set against a backdrop of tighter district budget constraints. But test scores and enthusiasm levels are rising among district students and parents - and outsiders have been noticing, Kellmayer said.
In a December referendum, Brooklawn voters approved the first school bond issue in 75 years - $3.3 million to finance an addition and repairs.
For Sandy Brown, director of customer satisfaction for Brown's Super Stores and wife of Chief Executive Officer Jeff Brown, the donation was a natural.
"My husband and I are very focused on helping the communities we do business in," she said. "We value our relationship with the Brooklawn School District."
The Browns also own five ShopRites in Pennsylvania and one other in New Jersey.
Sandy Brown said she and her husband had been hesitant to attach their name to a school and decided to use only the store's name.
"We don't usually take advantage of giving from a publicity standpoint, but everyone is so familiar with the ShopRite name that we decided we'd name it `ShopRite of Brooklawn,'" Brown said.
To Bruce Darrow, vice president of the district's Board of Education, a corporate sponsorship on the elementary school level isn't at all unorthodox.
"We haven't sold out," he said. "We still have 100 percent control over the gym. If ShopRite put up a sign 400 feet from us, we get nothing out of it. If they put it on the [new gym] building, they're showing their commitment to Brooklawn and getting some name recognition."
Though the gym's name may raise a few eyebrows, it just makes sense, Darrow said.
"It's like me in business," said Darrow, owner of Darrow Instruments. "If people support me, at Christmastime I give them a little trinket. This is a nice little trinket from ShopRite, and then some."