A gift of $25 million from Blackstone CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman recently made news as the largest donation ever given to a US public school. But did the gift to Abington School District by its billionaire alum come with “strings attached”? At the very least, the gift was poorly handled by the Abington school board; giving new meaning to ‘lack of transparency’.
Although I had read about the Schwarzman multi-million dollar gift, I didn’t know the spider web of secrecy until I received the following email from Ray Clarke:
I’m sure that you are aware of the news around the $25 million donation to his alma mater by Abington alumnus and private equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman. At first sight, this gift was nothing but good news for the community, but has become highly controversial for the many conditions around the gift (including both an original requirement to rename the high school and also curriculum changes) and for the lack of transparency in the process. Abington is taking steps to address its issues, but today’s news brings the issue home to T/E.
It turns out that T/E solicitor Ken Roos is not only on the Board of a secret foundation set up a year ago to receive the gift, but also is the solicitor for the Abington district that did not release any details of the agreement with Schwarzman until the day it was voted on, and is now refusing to release the agreement in response to Right-to-Know requests because it “needs legal review”.
This is the same solicitor who in 2015 fought TE community member Neal Colligan all the way to the PA Office of Open Records, who then ordered the District to release all records of the secret meetings relating to the actions taken in response to the Affordable Care Act.
It appears that Mr. Roos took nothing from that 2015 experience, and the community should have little faith that, should TESD ever have the good fortune to receive a large donation from a billionaire with an agenda, he will be the one that will help the district uphold its responsibilities to the community. Instead, I’m hopeful that we can rely on the values of transparency and engagement that many on this forum have worked with the district to build.
And if anyone knows billionaire TE alum, they should be encouraged to chip in here, but – perhaps as important – to use their resources and position to support equitable funding for all our public schools.
As thanks for Schwarzman’s donation, Abington school board directors decided to rename the Abington Senior High School to Abington Schwarzman High School – outraging parents. Sadly, the Abington School Board directors never sought public comment and didn’t give the community advance notice about the vote. After a backlash over the billionaire’s naming rights, the vote was rescinded. With apologies and a promise to involve the community in the process, a new agreement is to be signed by Schwarzman and the school district.
As wonderful as the Schwarzman gift is, unfortunately it is mired in the darkness swirling over the re-naming of the high school, secret foundation, etc.
And Ray is quite right to point out that Abington School District’s solicitor Ken Roos of Wisler Pearlstine is also the solicitor for T/E. In addition, Roos serves as solicitor for Lower Merion, Upper Perkiomen, Upper Dublin and Cheltenham school districts. With the level of activity in Abington School District and the multiple lawsuits in Lower Merion and Tredyffrin-Easttown school districts, where is the ‘good counsel’ that these districts should expect from its solicitor?
Transparency and public input should be a hallmark for school districts – why isn’t Ken Roos delivering this counsel to his clients?
TE School Board, are you watching?