$6 million goal urged for Mt. Lebanon schools

Funds sought for high school project

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A fundraising consultant has recommended that Mt. Lebanon School District embark on a $6 million capital campaign to raise $3 million for the high school renovation project and establish another $3 million in endowments.

The district, however, does not have enough support to raise $15 million, the original target that Pursuant Ketchum studied while soliciting feedback from the community this summer, according to the company's analysis.

The district paid executive counsel Elliott S. Oshry $41,000 plus travel fees to interview 27 individuals over the summer: parents, alumni and residents, including nine current or former board members. The Mt. Lebanon Community Endowment and the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education each awarded the district $10,000 toward the study.

His team found that most interviewees believed the district had an upstanding reputation and a logical timeline in which to raise the funds. Many thought $15 million was practical.

"But no one could be real specific where that would come from," said Mr. Oshry, who presented his findings to the school board Monday night.

Interviewees suggested the names of 30 potential donors, and six were interviewed. The team was hoping to find interest in a $3 million lead gift, but no one person considered giving more than $50,000.

Pursuant Ketchum's study was based on the idea that the district would try a $15 million capital campaign -- part bricks-and-mortar development at the high school and part program endowments -- which could keep the district from borrowing more money for the $109.6 million renovation project.

Three years ago, the district issued $69 million worth of bonds in anticipation of major renovations at the high school. After three years of discussion about the scope and cost of the project, work began in January.

Now, the district is figuring out how to raise the rest of the money for the project, and part of that could include donations from the public.

Of the people who interviewees suggested would be willing to take a leadership role in the campaign, 12 were interviewed. Nine said they would help, a significant finding, because that's an area in which people are wary to commit, Mr. Oshry said.

If the campaign goes forward, donors would be asked to consider a five-year pledge, a sum they would pay over time.

A campaign would require additional staff and would cost the district $872,000 -- but the $6 million might not come in for six or seven years.

"Before we start reaching a return for that effort, we'll be in the red for a while," school director Daniel Remely said.

The board likely will decide next month whether it will proceed with Mr. Oshry's recommendations. Plenty of discussion is needed before a vote, school board President Josephine Posti said. Three board members were absent Monday.

Mr. Oshry also recommended the district explain to the community what it will do with the money it receives; formalize endowment policies; build awareness about the campaign; share results of the findings with those interviewed and those on the list who weren't available; encourage people to consider the district in their estate plan; and develop a staffing and budget plan.

The Texas-based consultants, which retain an office here, conducted only the study portion, so as to remain objective in the process. If the board votes to proceed, it will consider Pursuant Ketchum among potential consultants.

education - neigh_south

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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