Forbes Reports on I Promise School

Forbes Reports on I Promise School
Posted on 08/13/2018
Image of LeBron and I Promise School(from Jerry Barca writing for

I can't figure this one out. A person spearheads opening a school to serve at-risk youth, and it's time to offer up some criticism.

Global basketball star LeBron James, along with his LeBron James Family Foundation, opened the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. It's not a charter school. It's not a private school. It's a public school.

It's different, though. Students eat breakfast with their teachers. The school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., from July through May. After lunch, students come together in a "supportive circle" to unwind after recess and refocus on learning. The adults charged with raising these children have access to services to obtain a GED and receive help with job placement. The kids wear uniforms provided to them for free. James bought bicycles and helmets for every student. He provided the food pantry and the clothing center.

The school's opening received national attention and so did James. It's a worthy news story, an athlete using his platform, foundation and wallet to give back to his hometown and alter the lives of children there.

Patrick O'Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the funding for the school. "You wouldn't know from all the national coverage that LeBron James isn't paying for everything at his new I Promise School in Akron," O'Donnell wrote to start his story.

O'Donnell's story is one of the things communities rely on local journalism for: follow the public money. It's what happened after O'Donnell's story that is perplexing and disappointing. People took this as an opportunity to bash James.

"If LeBron James wants to champion social justice as well as basketball, he should go to Chicago and help the poor people there who are experiencing unprecedented violence," a former Fox News host wrote in a tweet that concluded by asking people to read the host's commentary.

A sports commentator took issue with media's "fawning" coverage of James. He used the Plain Dealer story to make a case for how much the Akron taxpayers would be paying and how little James was giving to the school.

Based on the figures presented in the piece, one could interpret the Plain Dealer story as James paying for 25 percent of the I Promise School and the other 75 percent being foisted upon the Akron taxpayers. The sports commentator made that leap. One could also call the Akron Public Schools and ask them about the situation.

The seven-member board of education in Akron approved a $345 million temporary budget in June. This budget included the funds for the I Promise School, said district chief financial officer Ryan Pendleton.

The I Promise School is not a case of James and Co. opening a school, paying for parts of it and suddenly leaving the rest of the bill for taxpayers."We've been planning this," Pendleton said.

For this school year, Pendleton said the district allocated $2.5 million for the school, which has 240 students in the third and fourth grades. That's less than one percent of the district's total budget.

"It's important for our citizens to know that they're doing something really good with LeBron James," district spokesman Mark Williamson said. "We're not asking them for more money."

The amount of funds James and his foundation have contributed to the school hasn't been fully tabulated yet, but so far it is estimated to be $2 million in startup costs and other supplemental supports, according to the foundation.

Those funds paid to furnish and refurbish the building and upgrade its technology. The food pantry, the clothing and the staff at the school's family resource center, that's all covered through James. He's also paying for the substitute teachers and four additional teachers.

When the school adds students at each grade level from kindergarten through eighth grade, Pendleton forecasts that an estimated 900 students will cost between $8.1 and $10 million for the district. There is no estimate on the money James will end up providing. He's committed for the long-term. The school will remain public, and he and his foundation will be there to continually provide resources he and his mother wished they had when James grew up in Akron.

This is definitely different. It's a public school's partnership with a private individual and his foundation. Because it's new it needs to be malleable and amorphous. There are plenty of what-ifs out there in this scenario, but the commitment to provide an education remains the bedrock for both parties.

Apparently, this isn't good enough for everybody. It reeks of something political. Don't forget, James has said negative things about President Donald Trump so the superfan supporters of Trump have used the school opening as an attempt to blast James. This is what we've become, and it's insanely stupid. A man supports education, aimed at children who are at risk of dropping out of school, and it's time to load up the social media accounts and comment sections with seeds of division.

After the shots at James, the media -- the national media -- are second in line for criticism. It's the standard line of attack: It's the media's fault. It's always the media's fault. They told the story the wrong way.

The truth is it's not James' school. He's not paying for everything. Talk to district officials, though, and they say this wouldn't have happened without him.

"Once you go in that building and see the work they're doing -- it's transformational," Pendleton said.

In the end, a person joined forces with a school district to open a place of education for at-risk children. For some this is somehow a bad thing, and that's a bad sign for us as a society.

Image of LeBron James and the I Promise School
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