Fundraising extends Governor's School for next summer

Fundraising has brought in enough money for at least one campus next summer.

jstancill@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2011 

  • Founded: 1963 by then-Gov. Terry Sanford

    Purpose: Six-week summer residential program for intellectually gifted high school students

    Eligibility: For rising high school seniors or rising juniors. Students must be nominated by school officials, and performing arts students must audition.

    Location: Salem College in Winston-Salem and Meredith College in Raleigh

    Tuition: $500 per student, first implemented in 2010

— The Governor's School, a program for gifted students that had fallen victim to state budget cuts, has been saved for next summer by alumni and other donors.

A fundraising effort by the N.C. Governor's School Foundation has brought in more than $520,000, said Scott Gayle, a lawyer in Greensboro who led the donation drive.

That's enough to ensure that the summer academic program for high school students can operate on at least one of its two campuses next summer.

Today, the State Board of Education will decide whether to keep open the option of the second location so the foundation can continue to seek donations. The group hopes to raise closer to $1 million to keep the school fully operating during what will be its 50th anniversary year next year.

The board had given the foundation a deadline of Nov. 1 to raise $550,000 to finance about 300 students on a single campus with $500 tuition. That would be a significantly downsized program from the one that operated last summer, when Meredith College in Raleigh and Salem College in Winston-Salem each hosted 400 students.

Swinging into action

Earlier this year, lawmakers, facing a $2.5 billion budget shortfall, cut the entire Governor's School annual appropriation of $849,000.

That set the program's alumni in motion to do anything and everything to rescue the school, which offers six weeks each summer where students immerse themselves in the arts, social studies, math, languages and science.

Fundraisers have been stunning in their speed and determination. The foundation had been in existence for about two decades but never aimed to raise more than about $20,000 a year to supplement the state funding.

First, the organizers had to try to update a database of the 31,000 alumni. One existed, but the vast majority of addresses were old and outdated. Many female graduates were not listed under their married names and had to be tracked down.

The alumni held parties in cities across the state and along the East Coast. They used email and social networking to rally the troops.

Gayle said it would normally be a tough sell to donors to give to a state-funded program that would offer them no direct benefit.

"It's actually incredible that people would do this," said Gayle, who attended the program in 1968 and went on to be a Morehead Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill before earning a law degree from Duke University.

State board member Chris Greene, who served on the Governor's School Task Force, said she was amazed at the group's tenacity.

"It has been an eye-opening experience," she said. "I've been involved with fundraising for a long time, but this has been a really unusual group. They've gotten their money from $10 donations to one grant of $100,000."

That $100,000 is a pledge from Salem College, which offered the discount on the campus rental rate as long as the state chooses Salem as the host.

Next the foundation will turn its attention from foundations and alumni to corporate donors. Most alumni have already given or haven't been located, Gayle said.

The group will work until January to bring in as much money as possible to be able to offer the program on the two campuses. But it's possible the school will have to be shortened from six weeks to five, or the number of seats will have to be reduced to 250 on each campus.

"I am very upbeat about this," Gayle said of the second phase of fund-raising.

Officials are impressed

State officials, who were originally skeptical of the fundraising effort, say they've become believers.

"Based on the numbers I'm seeing, I can see why they have the confidence," said Philip Price, chief financial officer for the state's Department of Public Instruction.

The state board is expected to go forward with plans for two campuses next summer, at least for now, and make a final decision in February. Student recruiting will begin for auditions in January.

The long-term prospects of the program are still up in the air, though.

Alumni will turn to lobbying lawmakers to restore funding.

"We've always said it was a one-time deal," Gayle said of the fund drive. "We can keep it going for one year, but that's it."

Greene asked the board to let the foundation have extra time to raise as much money as possible for next year.

"Governor's School is a significant entity in our state, culturally, educationally and economically," she said, "and I plead with you, let's keep it."

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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