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Cleveland City Council urges CMSD to use $20 million MacKenzie Scott grant as originally promised

CEO Eric Gordon announces the CMSD Get More Opportunities Fund at East Tech High School in Cleveland.
Ideastream Public Media
Conor Morris
CEO Eric Gordon announces the CMSD Get More Opportunities Fund in 2022 at East Tech High School in Cleveland, funded by a $20 million grant from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. City Council members sent a letter on Feb. 23, 2024, asking the district to use the the funds for the purpose the district had initially promised they would be used for: more opportunities for students and staff.

The majority of Cleveland City Council is urging the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to keep its promise, and use a $20 million grant from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott as it initially said it would: to fund one-time improvements and provide students and teachers with opportunities the district couldn't normally afford.

Twelve of Council's 17 members sent a letter to CMSD CEO Warren Morgan and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb Friday asking the district to return the grant to CMSD's "Get More Opportunities" fund, a program initially laid out by Morgan's predecessor, Eric Gordon. The district has said it will need to keep the $20 million in its general fund to keep afloat as it contends with a $143 million budget deficit starting in the 2025 fiscal year.

Council members noted the money had previously been used to cover things that students and educators deserve: expenses for college visits and field trips; training for teachers; and to replace athletic equipment and musical instruments.

"It is imperative to uphold credibility and demonstrate support for the aspirations of future leaders with integrity and honesty," the council members wrote. "Retracting a promised resource for students and the community is unacceptable, as it undermines trust and hinders progress. Fulfilling commitments and maintaining one's word is a cornerstone of building meaningful and productive relationships with students, colleagues, and the community."

Morgan has said the district had always kept the $20 million grant in its general fund, even before his tenure, so, to remove it now would mean an even larger budget hole for the district to plug. Morgan's current plan for cuts, to be voted on by the CMSD Board of Education next week, largely avoids cuts to teaching staff. Morgan has also previously argued that money from the grant will still be used to improve students' academic experiences and continue pandemic relief-funded programs that normally would need to be discontinued.

Teachers and families at John F. Kennedy High School had hoped to get funding for a planned trip to Greece from the "Get More Opportunities" program. They have resorted to crowd-funding for the trip.

"We have 10 families and chaperones who invested in passports, enrollment fees, and payment plans," one John F. Kennedy teacher wrote on their GoFundMe page. "Our school district administrators are attempting to cancel the trip primarily because of funding. If we can raise the money within 40 days, that would be a blessing for seniors and other students to experience education abroad who may never have the opportunity in the future. Please find it in your hearts to help send our students to Greece!!"

CMSD and the Bibb administration have not responded to requests for comment.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.