Dallas Philanthropist Gives $10 Million to Arts School

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The owner of a Dallas-based oil and gas company recently gave $10 million to a public magnet school for the arts in that city, a donation that is believed to be one of the largest ever for a public school in the United States.

Nancy Hamon, the owner of Hamon Operating Co., gave the money to the 750- student Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, originally built in 1922 as the first high school for black students in Dallas. Currently, school officials say, the building suffers from crowded classrooms and severe structural deterioration. The donation will be used to help upgrade the building.

The donation appears to be the largest ever given to a public magnet school for the arts, according to research by the Dallas Independent School District and Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And among donations to U.S. public schools of any kind, it appears to be second only to a $20 million gift to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School in Milwaukee.

"This is something that has been in the process for several years," said Jolynne Jensen, the executive director of the Booker T. Washington High School advisory board.

As in many urban districts faced with deteriorating buildings, she said, funding for school construction in Dallas has been limited.

The advisory board, Ms. Jensen said, has spent thousands of dollars trying to maintain the aging, overcrowded facility, making do with a library only a third the size it should be, unusually narrow classrooms, and a cafeteria so small that many students were forced to eat lunch in the hallways. Then, in 2001, the ceiling in the building's main performance theater collapsed.

"We realized that we were just patching patches and not fixing the problem," said Ms. Jensen.

Concern About Dependence

Bob Hopkins, the founder and publisher of International Philanthropy World magazine, based in Dallas, also said the $10 million gift appeared to be the largest donation to a public magnet school for the arts.

He added that the donation represented an emerging trend in the funding of public education, in which schools set up foundations to draw in private contributions.

"The bottom line is that Nancy Hamon is a great example of how someone can give to public education," Mr. Hopkins said.

But there are concerns that schools could become too dependent on private donations. Some studies suggest that such reliance could give corporations or wealthy donors undue influence over how schools are run.

Critics also say private donations can entice schools into creating ongoing programs that are quickly cut during difficult economic times, when philanthropic dollars tend to decrease.

Mr. Hopkins disagrees. He argues that private donations will serve only to improve public education by allowing individuals to support supplemental programs and broaden the curriculum.

"A child is a child," he said. "There are enough private dollars in America to go around to solve all of our problems. We need to give to education until every child is educated."

Vol. 23, Issue 25, Page 5

Published in Print: March 3, 2004, as Dallas Philanthropist Gives $10 Million to Arts School
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  • Read about Bob Hopkins, founder of Philanthropy International magazine.
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