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School board celebrates surprise $18 million gift

During Thursday’s Durham Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Pascal Mubenga applauded billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s $18 million donation to the school district, but urged patience from the community as the district decides how to utilize the funds.

“We will want to make sure these funds are going to have a long and lasting impact,” Mubenga said. “We have 32,000 students, we will want to make sure it’s going to impact all these students.”

Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (the couple divorced in 2019), is the 30th richest person—and the fourth-richest woman—in the world, according to Forbes. On Nov. 14, Scott announced via Medium that over the last seven months, she donated over $1.9 billion to 343 organizations, including DPS, in order to support “the voices and opportunities of people from underserved communities.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Mubenga said Scott’s representatives reached out to him two months ago and told him that the 52-year-old would be making the unrestricted donation to the district.  “We were surprised when representatives for Ms. Scott contacted us to let us know that she was going to make a donation in support of our students and our schools,” Mubenga said.

He even joked that when Scott’s representatives first reached out, “I thought it was a scam.” 

He added that community members have reached out to him via email to express their excitement at the news.

“This is unexpected good news, and we must be careful and strategic about how we can best prioritize this funding,” he said. “So, I ask our community [for] patience, as we work with this board to deploy this grant in a way that follows Durham’s values and aligns with our strategic plan.” 

Back in 2019, in the wake of receiving roughly $36 billion in Amazon shares after her divorce from Bezos, Scott signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals (and their families) to donate a majority of their wealth to charity. In her Medium post, Scott noted that most of her donations are to funds, which “pool donations and spread them across a diverse group of smaller organizations working toward a common cause.”

DPS is not the only school district to benefit from Scott’s latest round of philanthropy. Chicago Public Schools and Detroit Public Schools, among others, are also included in the group of  the 343 organizations Scott is supporting. 

“These kinds of funds come once in a lifetime. Let’s be patient,” Mubenga said. 

According to the district’s FY 2022-23 Budget Resolution, the district expects to receive $684 million in revenues  for the current school year.

This is not the first time Scott has donated to a Durham-based organization. Back in 2020, she announced on Medium that she had donated to Meals on Wheels Durham.