Schwarzman Finds High School Immortality Harder Than Thought

(Bloomberg) -- Steve Schwarzman was president of his high school’s student council, but he’s not making the rules now.

An agreement putting the name of billionaire co-founder of Blackstone Group on the school -- one of the stipulations of a $25 million donation he pledged -- was rescinded Tuesday by the Abington, Pennsylvania, school board following objections from some residents. The main complaint was that the deal had been done in private with little input from the public.

Schwarzman, 71, dropped the requirement to have his name added to Abington Senior High School, and a new agreement was posted Wednesday on the district’s website to be voted on April 24. The revised deal will put the private equity executive’s name on a new science and technology center, but no longer stipulates that he’ll receive regular updates on the school’s computer science curriculum or construction progress. The first $6 million contribution is due on July 1.

“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.”

Revamping Curriculum

For about 15 months, Schwarzman had met off and on with district Superintendent Amy Sichel to work out a major gift that would involve renovating the school that he graduated from in 1965, as well as constructing a new building and revamping curriculum with a focus on coding and technology.

Schwarzman announced his gift at a national conference of school superintendents in mid-February, about a month and a half before the agreement was approved by the school board. He advised the superintendents that they should seek individual donations, and set up a foundation to do so. Abington had created a foundation to take in such major gifts, Sichel said in an interview with Bloomberg at the time, separate from the foundation that takes smaller contributions from parents and the community.

But 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.

“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.”

In an editorial in the Abingtonian, the school’s newspaper, senior Dionna Dash questioned whether Schwarzman was the kind of public figure their school should be named after.

“While Schwarzman has become incredibly wealthy and successful, and his name is on our stadium,” Dash wrote, “the social and/or political basis for putting his name on our school simply is not the same as someone such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln.”

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