July 12, 2012Guilford County Schools accepted $1,076,800 in private donations in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, ending June 30.
The vast majority of the roughly 1,000 private donations, totaling $401,126, were to particular schools, mostly small amounts given by individuals, PTAs, churches, Boy Scout troops, civic groups, small companies and almost every other type of small local organization under the sun.
The largest single donation, $442,199, came from Businesses for Excellence in Education, a group of businesses in Guilford County that gave to specific projects, including the Montlieu technology partnership, which provided iPads and other technology to the Montlieu Academy of Technology in High Point, the Cool to Serve program to encourage community service, the Cool to be Smart program, which gives a car and computers to graduates who passed the most advanced placement and international baccalaureate exams during high school, and the Guilford Parent Academy, which provides classes to parents.
Other companies and foundations have chipped in to launch new schools or programs. A group of 11 companies kicked in a total of $188,050 toward the launch of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Early College at North Carolina A&T State University, which is expected to open in the fall of 2012. Those companies are VF Jeanswear Ltd., Tyco Electronics, Unifi Manufacturing, Capsule Group, Toleo Foundation, Samet Corp., Solstas Lab Partners Group, the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, the VF Foundation and the Pace Communications Fund.
That businesses and foundations are giving to the school system is a good thing. They are being good citizens. But $600,000 or so isn't going to break the bank, collectively, of Guilford County corporations. And not all of the corporate donations are spent wisely – surely the $10,450 donated by corporations to fund Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green's showboating "State of our Schools" address, which rolls around every year complete with trays of canapés, could be better spent.
What are more impressive are the hundreds of donations by private individuals. Particularly impressive – and touching – last year was the $23,288 given to Oak Hill Elementary School, most of it in in memory of the late Gina Jacobs, a much-loved volunteer at the school and a well-known civic leader and volunteer in High Point.
Jacobs, 54, died in a bicycling accident in Welcome, North Carolina, on Feb. 28, 2012.
After taking public comments, the school board in April voted to rename Oak Hill's media center the "Gina Jacobs Library," and High Point school board members Ed Price and Carlvena Foster have suggested renaming the entire school after Jacobs.
The list of donations to Oak Hill takes up six pages of the 27-page list of donations for 2011-2012.
Not all the schools were as fortunate – Aycock Middle School had $249 in private donations last year and Bluford Elementary School had $225, to name just two.
Not all county schools are equally built, equipped and funded – which makes a draft proposal by the Board of Education's Donated Funds for Construction Committee to tax donations toward school buildings or other facilities by 50 percent to 75 percent make even less sense.
The draft policy, which is still being considered by the committee and has not yet reached the board, would require groups wanting to donate money for buildings, other facilities, furniture, fixtures or equipment to schools to raise 50 to 75 percent more than their target goals, which would go into an "equity fund" for schools that haven't gotten such donations.
The intent of the policy is to equalize construction donations to schools. But it seems likely to have the opposite effect, by discouraging donations that would free up construction money that Guilford County Schools could use to renovate, expand and better equip other schools.
The policy would apply only to "donations and designated gifts for capital improvements" – but defines capital improvements quite loosely as money given "to improve, enhance, expand or build" facilities. No minimum donation for the policy to take effect has yet been set, but there are placeholders for such minimums.
The creation of the policy was sparked by an effort by a group of Millis Road Elementary School supporters to raise $1.5 million from private donors to build and furnish a new building at the school that would be a combination gym, assembly space and four-classroom expansion.
The irony in the policy is that it might make it impossible for private groups to give buildings and furnishings to a school – although one of the cornerstones of Green's strategic plan for county schools is an effort to equalize buildings, facilities, equipment and furnishings among schools.
Green's strategic plan is broken down into sections called "areas." Area VIII is "Clear Baseline and Equitable Standards." If fully implemented, it would be a game-changing improvement in the school system.
Anyone who has visited many Guilford County Schools knows that they vary wildly in the quality of their buildings, equipment, furnishings and maintenance. The problem is most pronounced in elementary schools and least pronounced in high schools, with middle schools falling somewhere in between. Guilford County has some elementary schools that look as if they should have collapsed long ago.
Area VIII of the plan sets a goal that was already missed last month. By June 30, 2012, all schools were supposed to meet a baseline standard and "targeted schools" were supposed to meet a higher standard.
The plan defines targeted schools as "schools that may require additional support as a result of having a high percentage of lateral entry staff, high percentage of students who are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch, novice principal and/or low student performance."
The baseline standard was supposed to be an equal level and quality of facilities, instructional materials, technology, media materials and supplies. It was also supposed to provide schools with teachers with comparable "experience, degrees, certifications, etc." over time, as well as equal extracurricular activities.
Some progress has been made on the policy – some of the schools in the Guilford County Schools Enrichment Region, which contains some of the poorest and poorest-performing schools in the county, have libraries brimming with new books. But anyone who thinks the June 30 deadline was met in any meaningful way hasn't been paying attention, and the school board hasn't shown much interest in Green's baseline policy since approving his strategic plan three years ago.
The 50 to 75 percent donation tax will probably come before school board members before the school board considers its own equity responsibility – to target money from its own budget to provide equity between schools, as Green planned to do. But it's much easier to control other people's money.