Preston V. McMurry Jr., Class of 1955, a football star for the Blue Devils and also for Ohio State, donated $100,000 to the athletic department with $50,000 of it earmarked for the weight room.
The Mt. Lebanon School District relies on real estate tax for 67 percent of its budget and on state funding for another 20 percent. Since 2006, state law has limited a school board’s ability to raise real estate tax millage, based on a financial formula calculated for each district annually by the state. Also, over the past few years, state funding has not kept pace with rising costs. So Mt. Lebanon, like many school districts across the state, is having to make some hard choices when it comes time to finalize the budget.
Last year, the district launched the Century of Excellence Capital Campaign, a private funding initiative to bridge the gap between the balance sheet and the wish list. The campaign’s goal is to raise $3 million for things that would enhance the quality of education but fall outside of the budget, and another $3 million to establish a sustainable endowment.
Sloane Astorino is Mt. Lebanon School District’s director of advancement. She leads the district’s campaign and also is executive director of the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education (MLFE). Astorino has extensive experience in fund-raising. She comes to Mt. Lebanon from Carnegie Mellon University, where she was a major gifts officer. She also was assistant director of annual giving at Chatham University and communication coordinator for The Pittsburgh Foundation.
“There is no other school district that would have gotten me to leave CMU,” she says. “I can’t think of any school district where a campaign like this would work as well as it could here. The community is very volunteer-oriented, and there is a culture of philanthropy and community service that is very apparent in the community and in the schools. Walk through any of our schools, and you see students and teachers always raising money for something.”
Astorino expects one of the mainstays of the campaign to be the pride that so many Mt. Lebanon grads of all ages have in the district.
“The alumni pride that I’ve seen is so sincere and so heartfelt—that’s the spirit that’s driving the campaign,” she says.
One example of alumni pride is the Preston V. McMurry Jr. Weight Room. Murray, Class of 1955, a football star for the Blue Devils and also for Ohio State, donated $100,000 to the athletic department with $50,000 of it earmarked for the weight room.
“He’s been very involved in the campaign,” Astorino says.
Astorino is guided by an advisory panel drawn from district stakeholders, including the PTA Council president, one of the 10 school principals, the senior class president, a teacher, the MLFE president and an alumni representative from the district’s Great Alumni selection committee. Members of this year’s advisory board are PTA president Julie Maselko, high school principal Brian McFeeley, senior class president Hugh McMahon, social studies teacher Pete Dinardo, MLFE president Dale Ostergaard and Great Alumni representative M.A. Jackson.
Last year the campaign disbursed its first $100,000, which went toward items in fine arts and technology education, including wiring band and orchestra spaces for recording, a mill that returns clay to its original condition for reuse, a three-dimensional printer and a laser engraver.
“We got input from the departments on what they needed,” Astorino says.
Astorino and the advisory board are in the process of moving the fund-raising campaign out of the “quiet” phases into something more active with opportunities for general and donor-specific giving—a donation for a specified purpose. Also, the campaign is developing a list of naming opportunities.
“We want to preserve the spirit that makes education in Mt. Lebanon so special,” Astorino says. “Our goal is to maintain excellence, whatever the tax future holds.”
Learn more about the Century of Excellence campaign at www.mtlsd.org/advancement.