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Billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman wanted to give $25 million to his alma mater in Pennsylvania, Abington High School. And the school board was eager to get the money for a renovation and new technology center. But the money wasn’t exactly free, and the community was not amused when it learned the details.
Schwarzman, chairman and chief operating officer of the global private equity firm the Blackstone Group, has amassed a $12.2 billion fortune, according to Forbes magazine. A friend of President Trump, Schwarzman, the son of a dry goods store owner, was president of the student council at Abington High. He graduated in 1965, and 40 years later, in 2005, donated $400,000 so the school’s football stadium could be renamed for him.
Billionaires have been involved for years in education, donating parts of their fortunes to schools and to education initiatives, raising objections from advocates who believe the wealthy should not use their money to influence the conduct of public education.
The Schwarzman episode, however, ran into trouble for different reasons.
According to an initial agreement regarding the $25 million donation (see below for text of the document), which was approved March 27 by the Abington school board, Schwarzman would receive a number of things in return:
The school would receive a new name — the Abington Schwarzman High School — and, “for the avoidance of doubt,” officials would make sure the name was displayed, “at a minimum,” at the front and above each of the six entrances.
Parts of the campus would be named after his brothers, former high school track coach and two friends on the track team.
Schwarzman’s portrait would appear “prominently” in the school.
Schwarzman would have input into the construction of the new campus, which is set to be done in 2022, including the right to approve contractors.
He would receive regular reports on the progress of a computer literacy initiative.
The agreement would be kept secret unless Schwarzman approved its release.
The agreement also referred to curriculum changes, with all students receiving Chromebooks and being required to take coding or computer literacy. District officials said that was planned before Schwarzman endorsed it, according to this story on philly.com.
The board approved the pact without community input, and when residents learned that Schwarzman had essentially bought naming rights to the school, they pushed to get details, the story said. The board waited a few weeks after approving the contract to release it to the public — but by then, the board had rescinded the agreement and promised to vote on a new pact with most of the earlier demands stripped out.
The new pact (see below for text) gives Schwarzman a far reduced role, and the school will no longer be named after him, though the new science and technology center will be, and new gym facilities will be named after his former coach and track team mates. Demands were dropped for contractor approval, portrait hanging and regular reports on computer literacy.
Valerie Strauss is an education writer who authors The Answer Sheet blog. She came to The Washington Post as an assistant foreign editor for Asia in 1987 and weekend foreign desk editor after working for Reuters as national security editor and a military/foreign affairs reporter on Capitol Hill. She also previously worked at UPI and the LA Times. Follow
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