Skillman gives $1M to Center Grove schools

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One of the Indianapolis area’s largest auto dealers is donating $1 million to Center Grove schools so parents with children in athletics don’t have to pay a new participation fee.

Ray Skillman, who operates eight dealerships, including the flagship Southside Auto Center on U.S. 31near Greenwood, will pay installments over five years in exchange for advertising rights at school athletic facilities.

The Center Grove School Board approved the agreement at its Monday meeting.

“Money talks, and whenever you start getting into financial straits, you start looking for help from the corporate world,” Board President Carol Tumey said.

Center Grove is among numerous school districts across Indiana that have been forced to make deep budget cuts to offset state reductions in education spending.

To generate additional revenue, many districts are instituting “pay-to-play” programs in which students pay a fee to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities.

Center Grove estimated that the fees it had planned—$170 at the high school level and $80 for middle school students—would have generated $210,000 annually. That’s how Skillman arrived at his decision to give $1 million over five years.

Skillman, who was unavailable for comment Wednesday morning, has an option to renew the deal for another five years, Tumey said.

It’s the largest gift the school district has ever received.

“We had never been on the receiving end of this kind of donation,” she said. “We were just in awe of his generosity.”

Tumey acknowledged that Center Grove has not been very active in seeking sponsorship deals to generate additional revenue. But advertising at the high school level is becoming more common, as schools look for creative ways to reduce budget shortfalls.

Hare Chevrolet has a 10-year deal with Noblesville High School and IU Health signed an agreement in 2008 under its previous name, Clarian Health, for naming rights to Hamilton Southeastern’s football field.

“Schools have taken off the handcuffs and realize that all money is green, and that it’s an accepted revenue stream,” said Ray Compton, CEO of event promoter Compton Strategies.
For Skillman, it’s the second such deal he’s inked with a school district. In September, he agreed to give Franklin Central $125,000 over five years in exchange for signage at its athletic facilities.

Skillman also will donate an additional $10,000 to Center Grove to support band, choir and drama programs.



  • donation?
    J.E. Smith - exactly right. This is not a donation, this is a savvy businessman incurring marketing expenses, both with signage and this public relations.

    Sass - Why would he throw money at a corrupt organization full of ideologically blinded leaders who have consistently failed -- like IPS. Leadership and philosophy is the problem at IPS, not money.
  • It is his Money
    1.) It is Skillman's money and he can do with it what he wants!!! That is his right!!!

    2.) Those that do not like it to bad!!! You are allowed to voice your opinion!!! That is your right!!!

    In the end for both points....who cares!!!
  • smart philanthropy
    Clearly most of us don't even have $1 million to donate, Blake, so maybe it is sour grapes on our part. But no doubt the majority here have donated to something, and we are within every right to point out a dead fish if it stinks. Center Grove is the Carmel of the southside, an unambiguously wealthy district that is probably a far more advantageous platform for Skillman's self-promotion than, say, Manual High School or even Southport High. Virtually all families in Center Grove can easily afford the fees, and it will hardly democratize sports at a large wealthy school district where only the elite make the varsity teams. Clearly the system is a meritocracy and it has every right to be one, but with increasing negative press on inflated athletic budgets during these lean economic times, is this really the best way Skillman could have used his money?

    If a person you otherwise respect decided to donate to a political cause with which you disagree, you would understandably pass judgment. I'm not saying being judgmental is a virtue, but since it's human nature, it's hard to muster much sympathy for a sawdust/plank analogy from those who apparently approve of Skillman's donation.
  • Ungrateful People
    I don't understand how there can be some many people out there who criticize an act of generosity. My question to all of those who have negative feelings, have you donated any money to IPS schools? I'm guessing the answer is no, so before you pass judgment, look in the mirror.
  • CG for Athletics and not IPS for Academics?
    Like Center Grove parents really need the support. Why not put the money to use where lives and the city can be changed? In my opinion, the money could be put to better use than athletics. I still believe every kid should have the right to play school sports - and as many sports as they like. This just seems like a waste.
  • SAD
    Some people do nothing but complain.How sad
    when someone gives money they dont have to give.Some people have something to say about it .Are any of you giving anything or is it
    your kids dont go to center grove and your not getting anything.
  • Interesting
    Although voters in CG turned down the school's referndum increase request, I guess this just goes to show that schools can find a way to get the money they need without having to go to the public with a huge referendum. Can we revote in Westfield?
  • Gift or sponsorship?
    A "donation" in exchange for advertising is not a donation. I'm sure the IRS will help Mr. Skillman figure that out. He's doing a fine thing but it's not philanthropy in the pure sense. He's getting something in return.
  • Very interesting ---
    Schools are taking all the help they can get these days. I wonder how long it will be until major companies or corporations actually pay for the naming rights to an entire school -- like the Verizon Wireless Middle School or maybe Lucas Oil High School. Seriously, it might come down to that if money woes continue. It's about finding creative ways to increase the revenue stream at these schools, so if that's what it takes, then so be it, I suppose. Go Fightin' Cell Phones!
  • Interesting
    Question, is this a "Donation" or simply an advertising deal? Moreover - a tax write-off or a advertising line item... Either way "Yes Money talks!"

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