Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli

Battling for students: How Dayton schools will use more than $500K to promote the district

Dayton Public Schools hopes a two-year, $537,000 advertising campaign will boost the district’s enrollment and attendance numbers, Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said.

Lolli told school board members on Tuesday that the campaign by the Ohlmann Group will include everything from billboards and RTA bus ads to radio spots, social media and direct mail. The budget plan estimates $250,000 in spending this school year — some of which has already begun — and $287,000 next year.

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“We want the word to get out to everyone that Dayton Public Schools are changing for the better, and we want them to understand the changes that are happening,” Lolli said. “Our parents need to have their students in school every day. Students need to know that school matters, and we want everyone to be there.”

The hundreds of proposed radio ads, totaling $107,000, are the largest expense in the $250,000 campaign for this school year, with billboards ($32,000) and direct mail ($27,000) next highest.

The plan also includes newspaper and website ads, social media spots on Facebook and Snapchat targeting moms with kids and ads on the music platforms Pandora and Spotify. RTA bus ads will feature information specifically about the schools the buses are traveling near.

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“We want to make sure the message is clear, consistent and ongoing in a variety of places,” Lolli said.

Several commenters in a Facebook group for DPS parents questioned why the district would spend $500,000 on advertising, group moderators confirmed. Some argued the funds would be better used to bus DPS high school students, purchase classroom materials or do personal outreach with families who feel unwanted in schools, rather than presenting a general advertising message.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Wednesday that poor-performing schools, whether they are DPS schools or charters, should be closed. But Whaley argued that the large number of charter schools in Dayton puts pressure on Dayton Public Schools to get their message out, making the ad spending justifiable.

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“Charters open and close ad nauseum in this town. They get to go and market themselves, so Dayton Public has to market their product as well,” Whaley said. “If folks don’t like that, they should go talk to the state legislators and get them to get serious about real charter school reform.”

DPS’ enrollment has stabilized somewhat this decade, hovering between 12,000 and 14,000, after falling by tens of thousands in the previous few decades as families moved out of Dayton and remaining parents chose charter and Catholic schools. The district is battling significant bad publicity after sports scandals led to state probation, and poor state report cards created the threat of state takeover.

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There are good things as well, from the purchase of new buses and textbooks, to the strengthening of career tech offerings and the revival of school music programs.

“There are wonderful things that happen every day in the Dayton Public Schools, and we want to get that word out there and change the narrative,” Lolli said.

Tuesday’s school board meeting was a review session. The board reserves most formal votes for the monthly business meeting, which this month is on Oct. 16.

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WHIO-TV reporter Mike Campbell contributed to this story.

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