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$25 Million Doesn’t Go As Far At A Public High School As it Does At Yale

The ungrateful upper-middle class of suburban Philadelphia will not bow to new liege lord Steve Schwarzman.
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By Lishabai Yi (Middle Kingdom Media Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Who wouldn't want to gaze upon this on their way to class? By Lishabai Yi (Middle Kingdom Media Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When Blackstone Group capo Steve Schwarzman pledged 0.2% of his fortune to his old high school, he had only two desires: inspiring a new generation of philanthropists to add public schools to their usual beneficiaries of colleges, art museums, ballets and orchestras, and the like, and to ensure a top-notch education for his fellow affluent southeastern Pennsylvanians. Oh, and also to have the school renamed for him, which new name must prominently appear over at least six entrances. And his name on the new science and technology center his money will build, as well, in case people missed the other signs or the one over the school’s football stadium. And something else in the building named for his brothers. And the gym named for his old track coach and two guys he ran with. Maybe a bit of control over the curriculum, and the right to oversee it, too? Also a say over the architects and general contractors of a new high-school building. And a large portrait of him to allow students to do proper daily homage to their social better and benefactor. Maybe also the chance to “assure maximum impact and visibility” of his humble bequest. Oh, and also for no one to ever find out about the above list of demands.

Unfortunately, try as it might, the school board could not hold to that last part of the bargain, and now almost all the rest is out the window, too.

After two weeks of stonewalling, the district released the contract Wednesday morning, the day after school board members rescinded it and announced that they would vote on a new one with community input and far fewer requirements….

“If a contract is otherwise a public record, fancy confidentiality language doesn’t make it nonpublic,” Arneson said. “It’s rare, but we’ve had circumstances where there is language in a contract or an agreement that basically says that neither party can disclose information. When a government agency is involved, those words don’t stop the Right-to-Know law from applying.”

Last week, the Inquirer and Daily News filed a Right-to-Know request for the Schwarzman agreement. The district had refused to release the document, saying it needed to conduct a “legal review” to determine if it was a public record.

Way to ruin it for all the other billionaires out there, stupid newspapers. If only the Inky and Daily News were owned by a billionaire—say, Steve Schwarzman—and not by a freakin' journalism not-for-profit, everything could have proceeded smoothly. Instead, this:

When the suburban community outside Philadelphia learned March 27 that the board had approved an agreement stipulating the school be renamed the Abington Schwarzman High School, a chorus of dissent erupted. More than 1,400 people signed an online petition opposing the name change.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all done without considering how bad it was going to look to outsiders,” Di Mento said. “This is a public school district. This is not Yale.”

So, no Abington Schwarzman High School. No recognition for his brothers. No veto or supervisory authority over curriculum or construction. Maybe not even a three-times life-size marble statue in the rotunda. All $25 million buys you in the real world at a high-end public high school these days is your name on the science center you’re building and your buddies’ names on the gym. You’re goddamned right this isn’t Yale.

Luckily, Steve Schwarzman never actually wanted any of those things he negotiated for, anyway.

“When asked to support the school, Mr. Schwarzman agreed wholeheartedly,” said Christine Anderson, a Blackstone spokeswoman. “His intent was singularly to support student preparedness, which is why he immediately withdrew the naming proposal….”

“While the board is deserving of your criticism, Mr. Schwarzman is deserving of our thanks,” board President Raymond McGarry said in prepared remarks at Tuesday’s meeting. “His only desire in making this gift was to do something wonderful for the community he grew up in and the high school he attended.”

Steve Schwarzman’s Painful High School Homecoming [Barron’s]
Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman had long list of demands in exchange for $25M donation to Abington High [Philly Inquirer]
It Turns Out $25 Million Won’t Buy Schwarzman His Name on a High School [Bloomberg]
Stephen Schwarzman, School District Change Terms on His $25 Million Gift [WSJ]


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