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The Daily News
August 29, 2005
Business Leaders Seek to Raise Funds for Schools
The Daily News, August 29, 2005
When Charles McVean, a successful commodities trader with his own investment firm, wanted to reverse years of decline at his alma mater, the idea of forming the Greater East High Foundation with the help of several business leaders was born.
McVean, whose classmates referred to as "Chas," is financing the bulk of the multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign, which began late last year to fund improvements at the school and to pay student tutors.
His eighth-grade teacher at East, Margaret Taylor, is director emeritus of the new foundation, which is ramping up its operations this year and seeking more volunteers.
And now, Central High School alumni are following suit. Principal Greg McCullough said a $3.5 million fund-raising campaign recently kicked off for the school led by Dr. Thomas Stern, a Central alum and cardiologist with Stern Cardiology Clinic.
Part of the money raised from that effort will go toward renovations.
Private involvement. Down the road, McVean wants more business people to get involved at local schools for the same reason, national foundations poured $1.23 billion into grants to elementary and secondary schools in 2003.
"The problems with our public schools are not solvable within a bureaucratic environment," said McVean, whose foundation spent bout $250,000 at East last year and will spend almost $1 million this year. "Its going to take risk-taking to come up with test programs that work."
William Bessire, who graduated with McVean in 1961, said seeing fund-raising efforts spread to other schools in the city was a major aim from the programs beginning.
"That was part of Chas thinking when he got it started," said Bessire, executive vice president of Consulting Service Group in Memphis. "We were hoping this would be a catalyst to get something going at other schools."
And McVean isnt the only one preaching that strategy. Wealthy business people, corporate givers and large foundations across the country aware of the mega-grants colleges and universities usually receive have been pouring billions into public schools in recent years. According to a recent story in The New York Times, such donations now surpass grants for higher education.
Global competition. But a lack of school funding isnt the only reason national institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are writing sizeable checks to the nations public schools. As with McVeans fledgling group, which pays tutors $10 an hour to mentor younger students, many donors want their money to be used to put reforms in place that couldnt be seen otherwise.
At a National Education Summit earlier this year, Bill Gates bluntly explained the reason behind his involvement: "Americas high schools are obsolete." In an interview with the Associated Press, he explained that todays high schools, for several reasons, arent teaching students what they need to know to be successful.
Thats why McVean said more needs to be done for schools in Memphis.
"We have full-time observers, lets call them, in China, and we have an agent in India," McVean said. "We watch the world out there, and its very clear to me that we are either going to straighten out these public schools or the United States position in the world will begin a relentless erosion. I dont think theres any doubt about that ... The problem with public education may be the single most critical issue facing this country as we speak. So what were trying to do is identify some core processes that will work, that are scalable and repeatable."
Raising money. Greg McCullough, principal at Central, said school officials have been talking about a fund-raising campaign for several years, and he is hopeful that once renovations are complete, a trust fund can be set up from leftover funds to address future needs.
"We do have a $500,000 matching grant thats out there thats anonymous right now, so we are part of the way there already to reaching our goal," McCullough said. "Were excited, and I think its nice to get the alumni involved."
Worthwhile investment. McVean is confident in the long run, the foundation will prove to be a worthwhile investment.
"At the moment, were continuing to gamble with my familys money," he said. "Thats until we can satisfy ourselves statistically and factually that we have a program thats working then well seek to scale up the operation, using other peoples money. There are a number of business people much, much bigger guys than I am who share my feelings about this situation. What were doing is we are trying to develop a program that we believe will improve these students in a very cost-effective fashion. And we think weve invented a scheme thats going to work."
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