Skillman gives $1M to Center Grove schools

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.


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